The explosion of imaging

The film camera business peaked in 1999. In that year, consumers around the world took 80bn photos (according to Kodak's 2000 annual report), and bought around 70m cameras (on GfK's estimate). 

In 2014, perhaps 90m traditional cameras will be sold - and close to 2bn phones and tablets with cameras. There will be over 2bn iPhone and Android smartphones on earth by the end of this year: with perhaps 4bn people on earth with mobile phones, there are at least 3bn camera phones and probably over 3.5bn. 

A total of around 1.2bn digital cameras have been sold since 1999 - there are 1bn Google Android smartphones in use today. 

Over 1.5bn new photos are shared every day on Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat alone, which equates to about 550bn a year, and this is growing fast. Total sharing across all social networks, if we include Wechat and other platforms, is certain to be over 1 trillion this year - around 1.5 per smartphone per day. How many are taken in total? Several times that, certainly, but there's no real way to know - it could be 1tr, or 5tr, or 10tr. 


  • More than 20 times more devices that can take pictures will be sold this year than in 1999 (>1.4bn versus 70m)
  • Any service doing more than 220m photos per day has higher volume than the global consumer camera industry in 1999 - there are probably half a dozen or more of these
  • More than 20x more photos will be taken this year than in 1999- possibly far more (2tr versus 80bn)
  • If you flex the assumptions, it is possible that more photos will be taken in the next year or two than were taken on film ever. 

I've not found any statistics for consumer video shot before digital, but it seems like a pretty safe bet that more consumer video will be shot this year than was ever shot before camera phones.

We can't yet see how much this will change things. The proliferation of imaging is a profound change that bears comparison with the way vinyl and especially the transistor took music everywhere two and three generations ago, or the way the steam press and railways took print everywhere in the 19th century. 

The difference with both of those, though, is that they were essentially top down: you still needed a factory, but this explosion of imaging is bottom up. Imaging becomes a universal form of conversation, rather than the freezing of a special moment or a piece of professional editorial content.

The transistor took music into the world, both spraying it everywhere and giving people  private bubbles of sound wherever they are. Imaging works the other way: soaking up everything around you for sharing and remembering later, and for taking ownership of what you've seen and done. Maybe it's that sense of ownership that makes Google Glass cause such visceral, inarticulate fury. 

The universal scope of the camera and the saturation of our lives with the photos we take also means that 'taking pictures' is now no more meaningful a term than 'writing'. Hence Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook or WhatsApp photo sharing are no more all 'photos' than Word, Indesign, Wordpress and twitter are all 'text'. Photos are no longer a category.