Not quite sure how relevant this is for the likes of us (they were just a cheapie competitor to my portrait marketing efforts, mainly providing price pressure, back in the day)—but Sears, Wal-Mart, and Toys-R-Us have abruptly closed their nearly 2,000 in-store photo studios in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
The company that ran the studios for the stores, St. Louis-based CPI Corp., had debt of almost $100 million and had missed several payments to lenders. Facing ultimatums, the company threw in the towel last week. Former President Keith Laakko had already said goodbye. There's a brief we're-outta-here message at cpicorp.com.
Is this all just very good news for Target Portrait Studio? Can't be that bad for photographers still doing business in portraiture.
Not funny is that 4,332 workers are newly jobless. It might have been thankless toil for the most part, but jobs are jobs.
CPI's Canadian operations will be spun off but reportedly will continue in business.
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Jim: "Actually Sears and the other stores were caught by surprise. CPI shut down without warning, leaving the stores, their employees, and people who had already paid for services in the lurch. The Wall Street Journal has had a couple of interesting articles on what went wrong (basically failure to invest in digital printing) and the impact the closure is having."
Manuel: "In an audacious bit of lateral thinking, I'd risk stating that it is the number of situations in which a printed portrait is required that is decreasing. You don't need to send your portrait along with your 'curriculum vitae' anymore: it's enough to scan an old picture and paste it to the document. The same with most official documents, such as driver's licenses. The demand for printed portraits is dwindling, so the crisis that affects this area of business does not come as a surprise.
"The democratization brought by digital photography doesn't do anything to help the studios' case, of course. People don't print their photos anymore, they just 'share' them on Facebook and store their pictures on a hard drive. Whatever prints they need can easily be made at home, as printers are getting better all the time. Photographing is so easy nowadays that anyone can do it, and most people are rather undemanding about how a photograph should look like. This must add to professionals' frustration.
Then there are other causes for this decline of professional photography.
"The other day I met a wedding photographer who lamented having much fewer requests than in his heyday. That's because there are so many people photographing weddings with their iPhones, of course, but it is also a fact that people who want to share each other's lives tend to forsake marriage. This is a steady trend. On the other hand, this photographer didn't take it too hard when I suggested he could have much more success as a divorce photographer...."
Mike replies: In a larger sense the (photograhic) trend has been continuing since the 1850s, when Daguerreotypists were being adversely affected by the invention of the tintype. No kind of portraitist has ever had much of a monopoly, and if they did, it never lasted very long. The CPI-type in-store studios, it seems to me, were among the things independent photographers used to complain about.
Crabby Umbo: "...This story was carried on a few other sites, with intensive commenting by people that used to work there. Apparently, one of the problems was that the company was using, at best, Canon 20D's, or older, and a lot of the stuff was really broken up, and unusable; people even commented on having to cancel appointments because of equipment being broken for weeks on end. So, I'm pretty much betting no one even wants that equipment; it's going right into the landfill.
"In addition, I read at another source, part of the reason they closed was that they couldn't make payments on a 90 million dollar loan. Who would make a loan to a company like this for that amount of money? It's not like these type of lease departments have a history of high profit. And it seems like none of the loan money went to modernization of equipment, so where did it go? The board's pockets in bonuses? Inexplicable...."