Several years ago, printing companies gave consumers the ability to print photos from the comfort of their own homes, and it was revolutionary.  With the influx of digital images, consumers were printing tons and tons of pictures and going through ink as it were their job – a manufacturer’s dream! The peak of in-home photo printing was in 2006 when everyone was running out to their local store to purchase the latest printer and photo paper to have a physical copy of their digital memories.  Every retailer from drug stores to mass merchants and office supply stores began stocking an abundance of photo paper.

However, around 2010, a different picture began to emerge and at-home photo printing was experiencing major declines.  Culprits of this included the increasingly bad economic situation that the US and the world were in, more exposure to the perception of the high cost of ink, and the availability of high quality prints from kiosks at many local resellers at a fraction of the cost. Printing at home just started to become more difficult and the results were not worth the efforts.  As they say, the juice was not worth the squeeze!


As photo printing has declined in the home, the availability of photo paper in the retail channel has also experienced noteworthy declines.  Since 2010, the overall retail channel has reduced placements of photo paper by about 10% with the most dramatic declines witnessed in the drug store channel.  In July 2010, there were 22 photo paper placements in the drug store channel (including Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS) compared to only 14 in July 2012.  The consumer electronics channel witnessed the second largest decline at 13 percent between 2010 and 2012, with 123 and 107 placements, respectively.


There is no disputing that in-home photo printing continues to decline.  However, there is still a market.  The reduction in photo paper SKUs in stores is a reflection the remaining existence of this habit.  It is likely that the number of prints has declined considerably more than the drop in available photo paper products, which may indicate that those that are printing from home today may continue to do so.


Interestingly, the availability of photo paper actually increased in one retail channel, namely the mass merchant channel, by about 10%.  While the increase is very slight, it is a notable as every other channel saw declines.  The mass merchant channel includes Walmart and Target.  The increase in photo paper products on these stores’ shelves, points to a slight shift in who may be buying photo paper for in-home printing and where they shop.  While the office supply channel continues to offer the most robust selection of photo paper in retail, SKUs dropped by 5% between 2010 and 2012.  The ever so slight increase in availability at mass merchant stores shows that some shoppers may be exhibiting a higher interest in purchasing photo paper at these types of stores.

The majority of brands of photo paper in the retail channel are printer brands, trying to sell consumers the whole printing package: printer, ink, and paper.  Printer brands’ biggest competition comes from private label brands such as Staples, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and others from stores such as Target.  Brands continue to try to show consumers that their product is better than a private-label.  While photo paper introductions have definitely slowed over the past several years, many companies including HP and Canon have updated their current product offerings with thicker and heavier stock photo paper.  By tweaking the core specifications, consumers are offered a superior product with little additional investment.  The strategy also allows companies to put out new SKUs while not reinventing the wheel.

It comes as no surprise that the number of consumer photo paper products is dropping in the retail channel as this type of printing becomes less popular.  However, there is clearly still a market for photo printing among many types of consumers.  The consumers seeking to print at home are likely those that are used to the habit and enjoy the ability to get that instant gratification or those that seek higher quality photo paper than is available at the photo labs in many retail stores.