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January 7, 2013

The brilliant idea that could make Polaroid relevant again

(Continued)

One early Fotobar customer ordered a $2,000 print of a family vacation snapshot on five-foot by seven-foot acrylic, to hang above the living-room couch.

The artisanal approach is a departure from the original Polaroid experience, which was all about instant gratification. But immediacy is no longer what's missing in photography today. We can share any image with anyone in seconds with a couple clicks of a smartphone button. What our photographs lack today are the permanence of tangibility. Fotobar's Struhl told me he thinks there's a great hidden desire for that.

"When I ask people to show me their favorite picture, they take out their phone," he said. "My next question is, does that favorite picture you just showed me live in a physical form? Does it exist on your wall, your desk, or your shelf? I get two answers. One is 'no.' Literally everyone says no. And the second is, everyone says, 'and it p---es me off.' Because it's too complex: 'I don't know what I'm going to get, I've got to plug something in, I don't really know if this picture's good enough.' So I realized there was a pain point in people's lives." Struhl thinks the way to fix that is not just by making it easier, but by making it pleasant, educational and fun — by turning the work into play. That's the Fotobars' goal.

Having lost its way in a high-tech world, Polaroid is going back to "high touch." If it succeeds, the company will have pulled off a feat that few foresaw: returning to relevance in the age of Instagram.

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