New Delhi: India is on a clicking spree. Now that taking a snap does not mean buying film and expensively processing it, everyone’s a photographer. As we point, shoot and then upgrade, the Indian camera market is poised for a boom.
Last year, in the middle of a so-called downturn, the market grew at least 50%. In a few years, Hidehiko Tanaka, Nikon India Pvt. Ltd’s managing director happily says, the firm will not even be talking in percentages as trigger happy Indians ensure camera sales growth of four-five times.
Tanaka, who set up Nikon India in June 2007, started his career with the Japanese parent 28 years ago. He has worked for several years in Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore, before moving to India in 2007. “People ask me if it’s boring to work in the same company for so long. But when you get to visit and live in so many different places, each assignment becomes like a new job,” he says. Japan is traditionally the biggest camera market. Now China is catching up. But camera penetration in India has not even scratched the surface yet.
Tanaka tells Mint why the world is interested in what we see through our viewfinder. Edited excerpts:
Auto focus: The economic potential of the Indian camera market is tremendous, says Tanaka. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
How difficult is it to sell cameras in the time of the mobile phone?
I see mobile phones with cameras positively. People start shooting with mobile phone cameras and get used to the experience. Next, they want to share the images — so they would have a slide show or take printouts. Soon, they realize that the images are not great, so they take it a step forward and buy a digital compact camera. Once they master that, they move up to an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera.
The lens of a mobile camera is the size of the nib of a pen. The difference in picture quality between that and a digital camera is vast. Recently, I went for a polo match. I was surprised at the kind of shots I was able to get there with a compact camera. You won’t be able to get that in a mobile phone. So, it is only a question of time before people upgrade. Mobile phones are good for my business.
Polaroids are dead. Films are dying. What would be the next technology to die in cameras?
I wish I knew. What I can tell you is what the next technology to come would be. We have recently launched a camera with an inbuilt projector. (Shoots a picture and projects it on the wall). On Monday, we are launching an SLR camera with HD (high-definition) video. We also have a Wi-Fi enabled camera, so you can shoot pictures and email it or post it on the Web. The Internet is an important area for the development of new technology in cameras.
What’s Nikon’s India story?
We came here two-and-a-half years ago. Nikon also has a large semiconductor business. We first started looking at India when a south Indian state demonstrated interest in setting up the semiconductor business. But it got stuck in the recession. So we started by selling our digital cameras in the Indian market. We also have some other products—industrial equipment, measuring instruments, etc. But 99% of our business comes from digital camera.
Last year, the size of the compact digital camera market in India was around 1 million units. This year we are targeting 1.3 million but most likely it will be more than 1.5 million. That’s 50% growth. In SLR, last year, the market was 1.2 million, this year, it is targeted at 1.5 million, but I think it will go close to 2 million. The growth rate is much higher than expected.
Why is it so high?
Because it is under-serviced. Last year’s digital camera sales globally was over 110 million units, India contributed 0.8%. Japan and China are about 10% each of the total turnover. If you think of the size of the country economically, the ratio is unreasonably small. So there is a huge room to grow. This year, we’ll have 50% growth. In a couple of years, we won’t even be talking in percentages; it would be four-five times growth every year.
Slideshow: (clockwise from above) Tanaka’s photographs of a streetside view from a moving car, a polo match an Indian wedding
What are the difficulties of doing business in India?
The most challenging problem of doing business in India is the complicated tax structure. It makes the product very expensive. We pay all the duties and bring our products in and there are traders who don’t do that. So in many ways, Nikon’s competitor in India is Nikon itself.
China was similar. When I first looked at the Chinese market in 1996, before the handover of Hong Kong, the duties and taxes there added over 35% to the price of the product. But in eight years, all duties were dropped and now there is only value-added tax. So the grey market died and this helped the camera market grow significantly. I hope the same thing happens in India.
You are a keen photographer yourself. Which is your favourite photograph?
While I have several favourite shots by famous photographers, like most people, my favourite image is one that I have shot myself. I have a picture here, it’s a shot of Mount Fiji that I took from a plane about six years ago. It is one of my favourites.
You play golf. Have you struck any business deals while golfing in India?
Playing golf in India is as tough as living in India or doing business in India, the courses are long and tricky. The DLF golf course is so beautiful, it has wildlife and flying peacocks. I didn’t even know peacocks could fly. I think the trick is, in India, you should forget about business and other problems and simply enjoy the course and the game.
Who is the Indian you would most like to see with a Nikon camera?
There are lots of people, but the one person I would like is Manmohan Singh. He always has the same expression. I would like to have a shot of him with a (Nikon) Coolpix camera and a smiling face.