That pesky disruption dilemma: replacing or complementing legacy behavior?

February 14, 2024

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In the following article, Hans Hartmann discusses major changes in the image industry and draws learnings for technology companies.

It’s tempting to assume that the latest and greatest technology trend is going to take over the world, while underestimating the adaptation capacity of legacy solutions – and their users.

As a market analyst for the imaging industry, that misconception came to a boiling point for me this summer when Instagram appeared to have abandoned its photography roots in an attempt to transform itself into a TikTok-like video platform. The questions that jumped out to me: Is video indeed the next big thing? And how do you balance pursuing what’s trending with not abandoning your loyal users?

But before we get there, I’d like to point out that this question of whether the next big thing is replacing existing photo behavior is one the imaging industry has faced many times before.

Two examples:

Is photo printing down and out with sharing of digital photos having become the norm? Ever since there was no longer a need to pay for printing photos in order to just view them (as we had to do in the days of film photography), many an industry pundit has predicted that the photo printing industry was about to enter an unstoppable decline. Digital photos are free and can be easily stored and shared, correct? But no, the photo printing industry is still doing quite well, thank you.

 

 

Innovation in producing photo print products (how about laying your head on a pillow with your remote lover’s photo printed on the case?), smartphone-kiosk integration, AR apps for additional content when pointing at a printed photobook, and a new breed of instant print cameras that cater to the user’s instant print gratification needs – just to name a few of the innovative ways that this old-time industry has successfully adapted and stayed relevant.

And have smartphones effectively killed the camera industry? While traditional compact and DSLR cameras are definitely in an ongoing decline trajectory – as they’ve failed to adapt in time to the mobile-first era – this is not the case for a variety of long-tail use case cameras. 360 cameras, drones, vlogging cameras, instant print cameras, and action cameras have all managed to successfully attract smartphone photographers by enabling them to capture photos and/or videos in a way not possible through smartphones.

 

Let’s zoom in on today’s very much debated question of whether videos will replace photos. This summer we saw this question being discussed all over the internet and even the mainstream media. While carrying the digital equivalent of pitchforks, Kylie Jenner (having 360M followers on Instagram) and her half-sister Kim Kardashian (with 326M followers) successfully mobilized the masses of photo-loving Instagram users. Their message: “Make Instagram Instagram again (stop trying to be TikTok. I just want to see cute photos of my friends). Sincerely, everyone.”

 

 

Instagram Head Adam Mosseri responded by releasing a video (!) to explain that his company’s TikTok-like full screen implementation was actually just a test, and a bad one apparently. But, in the matter of photos vs. video, he stood firm in his belief on what the future will bring: ”We’re going to continue to support photos, it’s part of our heritage… That said, I need to be honest, I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time.”

So, will videos indeed replace photos? Are we going to share 80% of our visual memories through videos and relegate the rest to photos, as Instagram might be thinking behind the scenes?

The jury is still out to this question. Interestingly, leading photo-first app developers are following a more measured approach toward adopting video than Instagram has taken. They very much keep their options open, while waiting to see how the answer to this question will pan out.

 

 

Some of these photo-first developers have taken baby steps towards video, such as by enabling their photo customers to produce video-like animated slideshows along with music, as for instance Magisto has done before they morphed their offering into a more full-fledged video creation app.

Others, such as VSCO, have added video effects and editing capabilities while striking a balance with their app’s original photo features. Yet others, such as Lightricks, released dedicated video editing apps in addition to their photo apps. And finally, others like Picsart have added video editing features to their original photo app while also releasing separate video editing apps.

 

 

In other words, these photo-first apps have been able to embrace the need for video features without upsetting the users that have put them on the map. Realizing that we’re at a point in time in which the jury is still out as to whether video will indeed be the new norm and replace photography – or turns out to be just another content type to complement photos for those instances when videos are simply more effective in storytelling or capturing memories.

And that’s exactly the measured approach any innovative technology company needs to take at times when it’s tempting to be swayed by hearing the equivalent of the “the next big thing is around the corner” declarations from all directions.

About the author

Hans Hartman is chair of Visual 1st and founder of Suite 48 Analytics, a market research firm for the photo and video industry. He also publishes the bi-weekly Visual 1st Perspectives newsletter, which includes analyses of trending imaging topics as well as a roundup of photo and video industry news. Hans was senior director of market research at Nero, and director of product strategy Quark. He co-founded Piczo and was director of professional solutions at Live Picture.

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