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Visual 1st continues discussions on generative AI and new markets

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

The 11th annual Visual 1st conference was held Oct. 24-25, at the Governor's Residence at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. The high-tech executive-level conference featured numerous sessions expanding on last year's Generative AI themes, with conference organizers Hans Hartman and Alexis Gerard bringing together a wide variety of companies from across the imaging ecosystem, from startups to established players with hundred-year histories.

David Crandall, executive director, SPOA, speaking at Visual 1st

The conference included a Fireside Chat discussion with Hartman and David Crandall, executive director, of SPOA, talking about the current state of the school photography market, the legal and legislative challenges faced by volume photography companies, and an overview of the American Foundation of School Pictures and Yearbooks.

The conference featured "fireside" chats with industry executives. One of the most interesting was "Google Photos - The Challenge of 'Anything is Possible'" with John Fisher, senior director of engineering, at Google Photos.

Fisher discussed the challenges of maintaining a wildly popular service — the Google Photos platform has 1.4 billion active users a month — while still meeting business objectives. Unlike other Google properties, Google Photos is not monetized through ads. The service relies on purchasers of its Google One storage service and, to a smaller extent, print product purchases.

"Our growth engine is our cloud storage," said Fisher. "We believe, similar to cellular data plans being a ubiquitous kind of user need now, we feel like cloud storage can be a similar need. Memories are just so core to how people operate that we believe people will purchase storage plans in line with how people purchase cellular data plans." The service also has API integrations that further extend the reach of Google Photos.

The panel entitled, "What's Next for the Photo Print Market - Today's Consumers are digital, online, and do video. Now what"? featured a collection of executives from various parts of the market. One of the panelists was Jordan Moore, of Edge Imaging in Toronto, who discussed how digital products are becoming increasingly important.

"We were founded in 2005 and are one of the very first fully digital school photography companies," said Moore. "Digital has been in our DNA since day one. Our core business is school photography and we make money when people buy school portraits from us. We're a unique industry in that we invest a ton of CapEX and investment into the business before we even make $1. We hire and train 400 photographers as our team members and then we go into our schools and we hope parents buy photos.

"We have noticed - even though we are 100% digital from our online ordering and digital product offering - that you have to be strategic about keeping the value in our product, whether it is print or digital, and looking at how to bundle those together. We've also recognized there are key pieces that need to remain printed and for us, the most important piece is that proof.

"Digital represents that 30% of our revenue, and the rest sits with printed products," she added. "We are starting to see an increase year over year, there's increasing Digital's increasing year over year. I think one other interesting point is we recognize, as we look at our consumer purchase behavior year over year across our programs, that we're marketing to two different customers. So what the parents are buying and when our students are very different. So being able to cater to both of those unique audiences is important."

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