The Film Fad and Other Retro Stories

Analogue Is Creeping Back. For Now.

Retro_cam_lDigital is, like, so five minutes ago.

Typewriters on trains, instant cameras in pockets, vinyl in coffee shops. Look around at trendy corners in cities like London, New York and Stockholm and you’re likely to get a reminder of days gone by. It’s a flashback to another era.

It could be a form of protest or simply a desire to be different, but there’s a growing market for products with tangible knobs and buttons. These new fad devices aren’t a threat to the digitalization of society, but offer users a break from connectivity as well as a touch of attention.

It would be tempting to point to nostalgia for the success of some of these products, but we believe that younger users are looking for something unique and fresh. What’s old is new again.

The popularity of instant cameras contrasts with the stream of digital smartphone photography, and is a reminder of how Polaroids were actually an early form of social media that enabled quick group sharing, easy tagging and even selfies. Fujifilm’s line of Instax instant cameras have become a top seller on many sites despite the high cost of film: each picture can cost $1, which seems infinitely higher than free cloud storage.

The artistic angle of instant photography must be intriguing to generations dominated by digital everything. There are certainly enterprise uses, but there’s something youthful about this product class. There’s also something attractive about the business model: recurring revenues. Users can take 10 shots before a reload.

The revival of film is even leading to some crossover products. CCS Insight has been intrigued by Prynt, a case for certain smartphones that turns them into instant cameras. It’s a physical layer added to the digital world. The case costs $129 and photos cost about 50 cents each.

The growing popularity of vinyl records is an equally fascinating. Nielsen stats say that vinyl sales rose about three-fold in the past five years, with unit sales reaching 9.2 million in 2014. Artists like Arctic Monkeys and Taylor Swift are burning up the charts along with Pink Floyd and The Beatles, indicating there’s a multigenerational aspect to this revival.

No retro movement would seem complete without a typewriter, or “tabwriter” crossovers. Products like the USB Typewriter bring together the concept of big, noisy keys and modern capacitive touch screens. Digital and physical devices can work well together.

Major device brands have so far had limited participation with retro, but there could be some opportunities to roll back the clock. LG recently introduced the Wine Smart clamshell Android phone, a retro device of a sort. Such products are a fashion statement designed to be a talking point.

If you’d like to receive free Daily Insight
e-mails every day, click here to sign up