With shows like PhotoPlus, Imaging USA and WPPI not having as many camera companies exhibit, we had to ask ourselves a question. Are face-to-face sales dead? In this piece compiled by the Photofocus Editorial Board, we dive into why camera companies aren’t as present at trade shows, and what this means for the future of the industry. The Editorial Board is made up of Kevin Ames, Bryan Esler, Vanelli and Levi Sim.

First it was PhotoPlus, with Sony not exhibiting. Then it was Imaging USA, which only had Canon, Fujifilm, Sigma and Sony present. And at WPPI, Canon, Nikon and Sigma will be the only camera makers with a booth. Why are camera companies no longer relying on trade shows to market themselves and make sales?

At one time, everyone who bought a camera at least looked at it in a camera store. They may have started the search at a trade show, then got more information locally before making their purchase. But as the camera market evolves, many camera stores have closed across the country. For a period of time, trade shows became a place where people could see and most importantly, touch and experience several cameras in a short period of time.

What does the absence of camera companies mean to a photography-oriented trade show? Simply put, fewer cameras are being sold. But at the same time, photography is more popular than at anytime in its history.

What’s the point of having a booth?

Person-to-person work is the most valuable thing a company can invest in. Lately, though, the trend seems to be relying more on a company’s influencers to push the brand on social media. This works to a degree, but lacks the personal touch. Most consumers don’t have a personal relationship with the influencer, therefore reducing the impact over time.

However, when a company chooses to make a personal connection via a trade show, that consumer shares that connection with their friends and followers in a much more personal way. Consumers get one-on-one face time with knowledgeable representatives, and are allowed to try out new gear before they buy. While that comes at a cost for both parties — the cost of the booth and space for the vendor, and the cost of the attendee being at the show — we believe that expense to be worth it.

As editors for Photofocus, we’re often asked for our opinions about a certain camera or piece of gear. We can give our answers because we’ve built personal relationships with companies, which have primarily been built via trade shows. If we’re influencers, that’s only because we’ve spoken with companies directly, tested out their products and built personal relationships over the years.

We believe that trade shows are one of the most valuable things a company can partake in. That’s not to say that every camera maker needs to keep up with the Jones’ (aka, Canon), either. A small booth can still work wonders at building lasting relationships with customers. Both camera makers and attendees should be somewhat prepared, knowing what questions to ask (and how to answer them). By having speakers educate attendees, it helps to broaden the scope and bring in new consumers.

Lensbaby is a great example of this. They attend shows regularly and have a small demo area where attendees can try their lenses and get support. They have a huge customer base that spans photography genres, and it grows with every show. But they haven’t built the enormous booth and stages that others do in order to look like a big company.

At Photofocus, while we typically don’t have a booth at shows, we do our outreach in other ways. At PhotoPlus, we hosted a photowalk after the trade show closed for the day. And at WPPI, we’ll host another photowalk, plus our readers’ breakfast, giving you a chance to sit down and meet the team, ask questions and give input.

The future of the camera market

According to Statista analysis of photos on Flickr, 54% of its photos were made with an Apple camera — either an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Following that is Canon (23% and Nikon (18%) in 2017. 1.2 trillion photos were made that year, suggesting that at least half of those were captured with a nontraditional camera.

Many camera makers are in a shift today. They’re trying to please their traditional audience through upgrades to a traditional DSLR lineup (like the Canon 1DX Mark III or Nikon D750), while others have gone full-on into the mirrorless world. It’s clear that mirrorless is the future for photographers, but the struggle for traditional camera makers to make that leap has certainly slowed down innovation and acceptance.

With the fact that camera companies are pulling out of trade shows, it’s clear that the market for cameras has continued to contract.

However, the number of camera introductions is encouraging. Every camera company came out with at least one new camera in 2019, and we don’t expect that trend to change. Even as the sales of traditional cameras shrink, photographers are still buying new cameras and upgrading as new desirable features are made available.

Camera manufacturers are starting to rely on alternative means of getting the word out about their new equipment, including working with influencers and with websites like Photofocus. (Note: Photofocus is not paid or contracted to give a specific opinion or spin on camera gear. Our reviews are 100% honest). Methods of connecting with camera buyers is evolving, and evolving quickly.

Where do we see trade shows in the next few years? For one, don’t expect them to die out. Instead, expect them to consolidate and become smaller, and in some cases, more personalized. There will be alternatives, for instance pop-up events where a manufacturer provides a more individualized experience throughout the country. Sony showed how effective this could be with its own show, one blocks away from PhotoPlus.

So while face-to-face might be fading away at trade shows, there’s a long way to go before face-to-face is dead. As photographers, we believe that camera companies need to have presence with its consumers, whether that be at trade shows, workshops or pop-up events. It’s the best way to secure your brand message, and encourage those to buy.

Lead photo by Megan Markham on Unsplash