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Why should Twitter be worried about the drop in Japanese digital camera shipments?

I’ve cross-posted this from my new website 8mpx, where I’ve started to look at trends and news around visual social media.  I’ll be posting content on my new site more regularly so I’d love to see you there and hear any comments / feedback!

The decline of the print media market (at least in the UK and US) due to the Internet is now an accepted fact. Recent reports point to the digital camera market heading the same way, thanks to smartphone sales.

Here is the evidence, and what it means:

Over the past few months I’ve endlessly quoted one statistic to showcase the rise of the ‘visual web’. According to Mintel, UK digital camera sales decreased by 29% over five years (the same report also said camcorder sales are down 21%).

In fact, even more powerful are a series of figures I saw in The Taipei Times within an article headlined “new smartphones crush compact camera demand.”

The piece looked at changes within the digital camera market in the Far East, the centre of the industry. One analyst, Nobuo Kurahashi of Mizuho Investors Securities, went as far as to say:

We may be seeing the beginning of the collapse of the compact camera market

The cause of that comment was the fact that global shipments of digital cameras among Japanese firms had decreased by 42% in September compared to a year ago with shipments of cheaper (consumer friendly) compact cameras down by 48%.

The reason is clear, the rise of the smartphone market. Back in June, Nielsen said that 2/3 of mobile buyers in the US were opting for smartphones – I suspect over the recent US Thanksgiving holiday that % was higher still.

Those smartphones are easily as good as digital cameras of a few years ago. For example, six megapixel cameras were the standard entry level camera in 2008, and my guess is that the photo quality of 2008 is something many of us would still consider perfectly adequate today.

Today’s iPhone4s and iPhone5 of course manage eight megapixels (hence the title of this website), and come complete with an app eco-system, such as the recently upgraded camera+ which offers advanced photo features such as ISO and shutter speed, features which are probably lost on a lot of us.

High end camera sales weather the storm

So is the digital camera market dead? No, I don’t think so. I actually don’t think the print market is dead either, but has a future in long-form publishing as opposed to reporting news, which is old as soon as the presses start running.

Hence the parallel with digital cameras. The one area that has been relatively robust has been high end cameras with disposable lenses.

According to the Japanese figures I cite above, shipments in the top end category are down only 7.4%, a lot of which can probably be explained by the global recession.

If you spend upwards of $500 on a digital camera with a disposable lens, you do so for more reasons than just to take pictures. This is your hobby (or even your job) that you’ve personally bought into.

Changing user behaviour + smartphone cameras + image led social networks = a fundamental shift in communication

So what does this mean for those of us working in marketing, communications and social media?

The numbers above speak for themselves, smartphones are increasingly becoming the camera of choice for consumers.

And that is all part of a wider trend.

Not only are they often with their user 24/7, mobile devices (including tablets) are also becoming increasingly important ways to interact on social media, access websites, do your shopping, read the news and various other things we used to exclusively use PCs for.

Networks like Instagram are both symptomatic of, and in turn accelerate the development of, the so-called visual web. These networks turn the simple act of photo-sharing into Twitter style broadcasting.

As a result, Kevin Systrom is largely correct when he implies that Instagram’s future is as a competitor to Twitter, with real time news (in the broadest definition of that term) showcased in pictures first and words second – as opposed to the other way around.

I mean, which would you prefer: A Twitter stream, some of which have pictures, around Hurricane Sandy. Or to have access to hundreds of thousands of raw images as seen, captured and uploaded by people on the ground via Instagram?

With Instagram now having more daily (US) mobile users, Twitter should be worried. No wonder they are introducing filters.

All this represents a fundamental shift in online communication, and one that anyone in brand marketing needs to be aware of.

Exploring this topic further is the ultimate aim of this site. I hope you will find it useful, and any comments do email me – dirk at 8mpx.co.uk

Images – Top image from Vintage Computing, a retro ad for the precursor of the digital camera. Middle image from Camera+ maker TapTap

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