Hewlett-Packard will on Thursday announce a big push into the retail photo printing market, a move that will put the computer maker in direct competition with photography stalwarts such as Kodak and Fuji.

The company, which already has a presence in the in-home and online photo markets, is set to announce two new products: a digital photo-finishing unit for use behind the counter in commercial photo processing labs; and a smaller stand-alone in-store kiosk.

Vyomesh Joshi, head of HP’s imaging and printing group, said HP would combine elements of its printing and computer technology portfolio to make photo-
finishing more attractive to retailers and to expand the array of services available to customers.

“Our goal is to do for photo-finishing what Starbucks did for coffee,” said Mr Joshi.

The move comes as companies such as Kodak and Fuji seek to adjust to the changes that have swept the photo-finishing industry following the widespread adoption of digital cameras. Many digital camera owners have chosen to store their photos on their computers or online instead of printing them.

Kodak and Fuji dominate the market for digital photo-finishing, and convincing retailers to abandon their relationships with the industry leaders could be a difficult proposition.

Mr Joshi said HP would try to address that challenge by making “two bold moves” to change the way retailers and customers think about photo-finishing.

The first move would be to utilise HP’s printing and computer technology to make retail photo-finishing more economically efficient.

He said the second would be to offer consumers products that move beyond the commoditised 4x6 photograph that currently accounts for about 90 per cent of retail photo printing. HP’s in-store units will offer higher-margin products such as poster-sized prints and hard-bound photo albums, printed on demand.

HP already sells a line of in-home photo printers and supplies, and last year it bought Snapfish, an online photo processing company that mails prints to customers who upload them to its web site.

The company’s move to embrace retail photo printing partly reflects a shift in momentum away from in-home printing, which formed the core of HP’s early digital strategy. Mr Joshi said the company had begun to realise that customers were demanding photo printing wherever it was most convenient, whether at home, in a retail store or online.

“Where are consumers going to print in the future? The answer is all three,” said Mr Joshi.

HP’s high-end commercial photo-finishing unit, for use behind the counter at film processors and other stores, will retail for about $50,000.

A smaller stand-alone kiosk will retail for about $15,000.

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