In his book Ignorance, Czechoslovakia-born Milan Kundera explains: “The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering’. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” But nostalgia isn’t just an overpowering emotion, it is also one of the favourite tools of marketers across the world. Most recently, it was the driving force behind people buying Saregama’s retro-looking digital radio, Carvaan, for its library of old Hindi movie music, or the appeal of traditional Paper Boat drinks such as Kala Khatta.

But perhaps nothing says nostalgia more than a photo album. And that’s what 84-year-old Japanese photography and imaging company Fujifilm is capitalising on as it tries to sneak photo albums back into our lives. The company—one of the world’s largest instant camera sellers—plans to tap India’s thriving wedding photo album market and the growing retro appeal of instant photography in the world. “We are trying to introduce the fun of printing. The important thing is experience, and we want the customer to experience the ‘wow’ factor,” Fujifilm India managing director Haruto Iwata tells Fortune India. “Fujifilm’s desire is to increase the joy of photos.”

Photo printing, especially wedding photos, is big in India. At the moment, smaller photo studios or small companies such as PhotoExpress, largely meet this demand. Now, Fujifilm has launched its experiential stores called “wonder photo shops” that allow customers to rediscover the joys of old-fashioned photography by browsing through its high-end cameras, instant cameras, and print photos in different shapes, sizes and formats. Through these stores, Fujifilm wants to achieve something like a “photo renaissance”, which it describes as a “rebirth of the enjoyment of photography”. Last August, the company launched the first such outlet in India, in Chennai, and plans to open more in other metros.

So why does a company that lost its biggest stream of revenue— photo prints and film—in the early 2000s with the advent of cheap digital cameras and then smartphones, want to revive this business? “In the digital camera era, it is easy to have digital prints, upload them and share them. But print photos have a different feel. Plus, print is something we can preserve for a 100 years if we want to,” says Masaki Zenko, senior manager, photo imaging and image capturing division, Fujifilm India.

Fujifilm’s new focus in India isn’t surprising. India is a great market for print. No wedding in the country is complete without a big, fat photo album—and that’s what first caught Fujifilm’s interest. Although demand from amateur consumers is still low, the massive wedding industry, which some reports peg at Rs 1 lakh crore, is expected to keep driving sales for photo prints. “Not just in India, globally also we are trying to expand the printing demand. That’s not easy. Printing is just restricted to professionals,” Zenko says.

But the global market remains a challenge with the photo printing industry hit by digital photography. According to Future Market Insights data, the $16.9 billion (Rs 1.06 lakh crore) global photo printing and merchandise market will grow to only $22 billion in the next 10 years, that is, a compound annual growth rate of just 2.6% over 2018–2028.

Image : Masaki Zenko, senior manager, photo imaging and image capturing division, Fuji film India

Still, Fujifilm is optimistic. It is pinning its hopes on the millennial generation’s love for nostalgia that pushed it to open 18 “wonder photo shops” in Japan, Europe, North America, China, Russia, South East Asia, South America, and Australia. “For the young generation, it is almost like a new product, it is almost like magic. The new experience is important for them,” says Iwata, who joined the India team in January, after heading Fujifilm’s operations in Hong Kong.

The secret sauce in Fujifilm’s revival recipe is the instant camera, which the selfie generation seems to have taken to with gusto. The fact that Fujifilm’s instant camera range starts at around Rs 4,000 in India, and the bright colours they’re available in, makes its Instax line a popular gift for tweens and teens. The camera’s USP is that it prints pictures instantly, just like a polaroid. Fujifilm sells around 20,000 instant cameras every year in India, but expects the market to grow. Globally, it sells close to 7 million units annually.

U.K.-based research firm Technavio predicts the global instant camera market will log revenues of more than $1.8 billion by 2021. It says that while digital photos allow users to share pictures easily, users do not always like storing pictures on the cloud. “There is a preference to store photographs in a tangible form in frames or albums. This will drive the need for instant cameras and its accessories, fuelling market growth,” the research firm says.

But Fujifilm isn’t just reviving the romance of print to stay relevant in the digital age. Unlike its biggest rival Kodak, it has survived the most difficult time for the photo industry by diversifying into new businesses, such as medical devices and cosmetics. The company, which is present in more than 100 countries and has 280 subsidiaries, says it sells cosmetics worth about 20 billion yen in Japan. The logic is simple. Iwata says Fujifilm is essentially a chemicals company. They experiment with chemicals and emulsions for their business, and these technologies can be transferred to cosmetics and printing as well. “We have highlevel imaging technology, like what we use in radiography, which we can translate to the imaging business,” Iwata says.

So, apart from the new photo shops, Fujifilm also sells medical devices in India—which account for almost half its revenue—besides high-end mirror-less cameras, and industrial products. Its revenue rose to Rs 1,100 crore in 2017 from Rs 1,003 crore in 2015. And it is eyeing double-digit growth every year following the success of its medical, print, and industrial market in the country. “The headquarters have high expectations from India,” Iwata says.

(This article was originally published in the June 15 - September 14 special issue)

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