Is A Picture Worth a Billion Dollars?

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Ever since Facebook acquired Instagram earlier this year, people have been wondering if a picture is really, truly worth a billion dollars.

It seems that everywhere you look today, everything is becoming more and more visual. Facebook moved to the Timeline model. Pinterest is the fastest growing website in history and quickly becoming a new destination for large corporations like Microsoft and Salesforce.

Of the world's biggest 100 brands, 54 percent are now connecting to its customers through Instagram according to a new study by business data analytics company Simply Measured, with top global brands such as Nike, Gucci, Starbucks and Audi gaining more than a million new followers in just the last three months.

So here we are, less than a year after the Instagram purchase wondering if the deal helped fuel interest in the concept of the visual web and what all of this means for businesses that provide visual elements, such as camera manufacturers or providers of photo editing tools. What are these companies doing, or what should they do, to prepare for what could very well be an overwhelming surge of interest in the months ahead?

There are two major disruptive innovations and trends in the world of photography, which are closely tied together and support each other.

— Disruptive innovations regarding digital cameras in the form of smartphones

There are currently hundreds of billions of photos stored online, and that number is growing rapidly as more people have a digital camera built into their smartphone. People are now leaving their compact cameras at home and instead using their smartphones to take everyday snaps, which they then can easily share on their favorite social networks.

—Disruptive innovations regarding photo editing software in the form of apps

The recent evolution of easy to use photography software goes against the conventional wisdom that says people can't publish amazing photos unless they have talent and lots of experience with photo editors. We are in a new era where every photo is easily re-created with photo editing apps that add more feeling, creativity, expression, fun, beauty and meaning to pictures.

What does this mean for companies that focus on providing the visual element (photos) in their experience?

Social Networks and Photo Sharing Platforms

Every social platform has a different reason for existing and companies should not take the hype from the Instagram buy at face value.

Instagram succeeded in connecting tens of millions of people with retro filtered photos and used this feature as a visual tool to make a photo stream more appealing. But the move to a more visual web—and the fact that people are taking more pictures than ever— opens up the opportunity for new visual-based social networks that do more than just connect you with your friends.

Twitter recently launched a photo filter feature to make it easier to post photos as Tweets, and improve the appearance of associated photos in their streams. But adding filters to photos may be a distraction for the users who are just trying to keep people updated with what they are doing and find out what's going on in the world.

All platforms that share photos should take into account what role visual elements have for their users while designing tools that make photo feeds more appealing. Additionally, we should expect to see new social networks that are based around visual elements that push the boundaries of how we currently use the web to connect with the world.

Photo Editing Apps/Software Providers

Photo editing tools that simplify the editing process will continue to see major consumer adoption and challenge the dominance of complicated, over-priced software. However, this should not be misread as a dominance of mobile photo editing apps because over 80 percent of people still use their computers to alter or enhance photos according to a recent survey from 6sight.

While this shows a genuine interest in—and preference for—photo editing tools that run on computers, it also demonstrates that smartphone apps still have a long way to go and a lot of room to grow when it comes to figuring out how people like to edit or enhance photos on a mobile device.

Related to this is the prediction that photo editing tools that extend beyond what's become expected—and provide more creative options—will become more attractive to consumers.

History has shown that people tend to stop liking something once it becomes commonplace. This is especially true for visual aesthetics.

Retro filters, which became extremely popular through Instagram, will soon start to look like a gimmick, and will need to be replaced with more unique alternatives as people strive to make their pictures look different than all the others out there.

Digital Camera Manufacturers

This is the most competitive and disruptive space as smartphones drive down the sales of compact digital cameras.

It's expected for camera sales to fall 4.3 percent this year to 115.2 million units globally according to Market researcher HIS. .

Manufacturers are trying hard to morph compact cameras into mobile devices, so will compact cameras and smartphones be able to live together in harmony?

Right now digital camera producers are continuing to improve picture quality and offer more features, such as allowing users to share pictures in social media networks directly through the cameras, to compete with smartphone cameras. We may see a greater collapse of the compact camera market if we don't see more innovation in this area.

Online Printing and Photo Product Ordering

This is the most interesting and currently ingrown area awaiting innovation. Only five percent of the over 500 top ranking iPhone, iPad and Android photo apps have features that enable users to order photo products according to a new study by Suite 48 Analytics in the report "Photo Product Ordering in Photo Apps".

The study also reports that only nine percent of smartphone users who order photo output products do this directly from their smartphones. This area is one that we should expected to change and grow as companies attempt to tap into an area of photography that has the opportunity to be extremely profitable.

The Winner

So who will be the winner in the end? The answer is there will not be one winner. We might see a consolidation on the hardware side, but companies that focus on providing a visual element in their experience will continue to evolve and we should expect to see major advancements and shifts in the photo ecosystem.

About the author

Tekin Tatar is the CEO and co-founder of BeFunky ( With an MBA from Sabanci University and 10 years of professional experience, Tekin has built his career around e-business, digital brand management, and interactive advertising. Prior to starting BeFunky in 2007, Tekin wore many hats as the Business Development Manager of McCann Relationship Marketing Turkey, a leading multinational company focusing on digital brand management.