How Much Longer Does Film Have?

In photography, film has essentially become the same thing as vinyl records in music — beloved by die-hards and purists but shunned by everyone else.

At the turn of the 21st century, American shutterbugs were buying close to a billion rolls of film per year. This year, they might buy a mere 20 million, plus 31 million single-use cameras — the beach-resort staple vacationers turn to in a pinch, according to the Photo Marketing Association.

Eastman Kodak Co. marketed the world’s first flexible roll film in 1888. By 1999, more than 800 million rolls were sold in the United States alone. The next year marked the apex for combined U.S. sales of rolls of film (upward of 786 million) and single-use cameras (162 million).

Equally startling has been the plunge in film camera sales over the last decade. Domestic purchases have tumbled from 19.7 million cameras in 2000 to 280,000 in 2009 and might dip below 100,000 this year, says Yukihiko Matsumoto, the Jackson, Mich.-based association’s chief researcher.

For InfoTrends imaging analyst Ed Lee, film’s fade-out is moving sharply into focus: “If I extrapolate the trend for film sales and retirements of film cameras, it looks like film will be mostly gone in the U.S. by the end of the decade.”

 

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