It’s been over a year since Analogue Wonderland first opened its (virtual) doors and started selling a wide variety of films to analogue photographers around the world. And what a year it’s been! My name is Paul McKay, I am one of the founders and owners of Analogue Wonderland, and I’d like to share with you the highs and lows that we’ve faced in our first twelve months of business, as well as what we’re planning next.
The Industry Evolves
In preparation for writing this article, I went back to read the opinion piece featured on EMULSIVE on launch day ‘Making an Analogue Wonderland‘. The reality of any start-up is that you’re under constant pressure to make fast decisions, change tack to avoid surprises, and adapt to difficult decisions, and I was interested in how much of our initial intent had survived a year of the Real World…
Fortunately, our assessment that this was a good time for a film-centric retail business has turned out to be pretty accurate! We talked about the increasing stability of the suppliers, and sure enough, the past year has seen a remarkably low number of big brands and businesses in trouble. Previously the community experienced monthly bankruptcies, discontinuations, and companies pivoting away from analogue products – but in late 2018 and early 2019, there was only one big company that hit our news(feed) in such a way.
That of, course, was Tetenal: going through a very rough Christmas with looming insolvency and then an employee buy-out. But there was a marked difference versus previous years in that we saw the worldwide community come together, from suppliers and retailers to end-users and photography clubs, to lend support and financial commitments to New Tetenal. This kind of response suggests that the wider industry now has some capacity to support a business in trouble. The support is not limitless, and of course, requires a long-term solution to truly affect a change, but it does indicate underlying confidence in the industry that storms can – and will be – weathered.
Similarly, Kodak Alaris being put up for sale sparked panic from film photographers used to this being code for ‘the start of the end’ but in reality, the business is being sold as a complete entity – with the intent that the deal will allow Alaris to accelerate growth and innovation in core film products. Potentially a difficult transition, but ultimately good news.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen EKTACHROME E100 35mm hit the market in a number of formats, Supersense publicly state their desire to bring back pack film, Kosmo Foto Mono in 120, new emulsions from the likes of Lomography, Dubblefilm, Yodica, Washi and CatLABS. Even Fujifilm announce that ACROS is going back into production! Admittedly that last one prompted everyone to quickly check the calendar and make sure it wasn’t still April 1st – but it appears to be real.
In fact, we stated proudly at launch that we would have 170 films available from day one. That number had risen to 200 by Christmas 2018, and we’re now well on the way to 250. We’ve also increased the number of formats we offer – adding 127, 620, and bulk 35mm – so that more cameras can be brought out of cupboards and kept shooting.
Not all smooth sailing
Of course, it’s not been a perfect year: there have been a couple of challenges that have bubbled in the background, particularly across the start of 2019.
The first is the ongoing supply issue that has affected the availability of key products from Kodak, Cinestill, Lomography, and others. There is nothing more frustrating than going to restock your favourite emulsions and finding that they’re unavailable: we promise that we feel your pain! And so do the manufacturers who are working hard to overcome the gaps in the supply chain. This has been driven by a rise in global demand for film (good news!) coming at the same time as restrictions in raw materials (bad news). Fortunately, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and expect things to have stabilised significantly by Autumn.
The second fly in the ointment for many people has been the increase in price that’s affected several film manufacturers – most notable being Fujifilm with +30% on roll film in April 2019. Clearly, it is frustrating, especially when it drags out the inevitable ‘vs digital’ cost comparisons once more. There has been much said and debated on social networks and blogs on this topic so I won’t add any more than to say that if the new financials make it easier for suppliers to maintain current production and bring new films to market then I would think of it as a necessary evil.
That doesn’t mean I dismiss the cost of shooting analogue – I know it’s a huge commitment and we are constantly looking for ways to make it easier for people to save money on film. For example with our Wonderpoints loyalty program, offering free UK tracked shipping for all orders over £50, or adding bulk rolls of brands (including Washi!) so canny 35mm shooters can stock up and save. If anyone has any other ideas then please drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you!
It’s also been a big year outside of the business. My daughter was born in November – our first child and an absolute delight. I’ve started her off with a roll of HP5 PLUS and the Sunny16 rule, see how she copes with that before we move onto the Zone System.
I’ve also resigned from my ‘day job’ in a large multinational company. For the past few months, it has become increasingly difficult to juggle family life, a corporate sales job and giving Analogue Wonderland the attention it deserves. Something had to give – and we’ve decided that it should be the steady income that takes a back seat. Only time will tell whether this is foolhardy or wise, but I couldn’t be more excited about making the jump and seeing how far Analogue Wonderland can go. At the same time, my wife has ‘accidentally’ started a charity from scratch (it’s a good story…) so our home has become a miniature co-working space.
None of this would have been possible without my business partner Mary who has been full-time herself on the business since December and has kept the whole machine moving while I’ve been pushed and pulled around. Mary runs the ordering, logistics, supplier relations and customer service – so anyone who has placed an order or asked us a question will have interacted directly with her!
She has done an unbelievable job at scaling to cope with the ever-increasing number of daily orders. Our 150+ 5-star ratings across Google and Facebook are all thanks to Mary’s energy and enthusiasm. Any small family business is only as good as the people involved and fortunately, Mary is one of the best!
With both Mary and myself full-time, the coming few months are likely to be pretty interesting. We have several internal projects to work through (number one: increase office and warehouse space) that will set us up for the next level of growth. We’re trying to work out how to create space in the schedule and take on staff to allow each of us to take summer holidays without any interruption to service. And there is always a long list of website tweaks on the to-do list for improving Analogue Wonderland’s functionality, design, or both!
Aside from the internal projects we have lots of ideas to continue making film photography more accessible to the next generation of image-makers. We noticed a couple of copycat competitors popping up after we’d been open for around 6 months. While this is very flattering – we must be making it look easier than it is – it’s a good reminder that we can’t be complacent about our position in the industry. We feel very fortunate every time someone chooses Analogue Wonderland as the place to buy their film, and we will continue to make it as easy and fun as possible for people to do so!
This will obviously involve continuing to launch new films from our suppliers, and bringing new brands and films to the European market that otherwise wouldn’t be available. There are several coming up that I am very excited about. After all the news of 2017 and 2018 you’d think maybe we are due a quieter period – but I can promise that between now and Christmas you will see a LOT of products to make you reach for your camera and try something new!
We are also looking to expand our range into other areas of analogue photography, outside of core film. This is still in very early stages of planning – and we are only going to make this step if people would find it useful – so we will involve the community in that decision and process as we investigate. Keep an eye on our social media and newsletter and you’ll definitely see the opportunity to input!
And finally, we will continue to run activities with brands – both big and small – to help highlight the fantastic benefits of different emulsions or formats, while supporting those companies who are working hard to keep film alive and our fridges full. On that note, one particularly exciting announcement for today…
EKTACHROME competition and promotion
In celebration of our first birthday, we are partnering with Kodak Alaris once more to run a competition. And after the Summer Holidays last year, and Low Light Magic in January, we wanted to take it up a level…
Talking to lots of our customers, it became clear that there is a ton of interest in slide film at the moment, but there is often some underlying reluctance to make the jump. For some people that’s because of the cost, for others, it’s because their normal lab can’t process E6 and they don’t know what to do with it otherwise, and for others still, it’s because they’re not sure they’ll get good results versus their ‘usual’ C41 workflow.
So we’ve decided to try and solve all three things at once: this morning we launched the ‘Focus on the Positives’ Ektachrome competition!
Slide Film in Action: We are harnessing community experience and expertise to myth-bust the idea that slide film is inherently difficult. People can head to the competition page and submit their best photos taken on slide film (any slide film!), and during the submission process they’ll be asked to give an insight into how they captured the image and any hints/tips they’d offer a slide beginner. We will share those images and tips on Instagram, Twitter and our website over the coming weeks – to amass a great collection of wonderful imagery and knowledge. The competition runs from 11th July to 11th August 11th. The very best photos, as judged by Kodak Alaris, will receive a goodie-bag of Kodak film!
By asking people to ‘Focus on the Positives’ we are not only making an excellent double pun (if we do say so ourselves) but we would also encourage people to show us images that bring them joy. Analogue photography is a haven and wondrous thing in most of our lives, allowing us to slow down and enjoy the moment, and we’d love to see slide photos that reflect that.
Affordable Slide Film: At the same time we will run a short-term price promotion on EKTACHROME E100 35mm to make it just £10 per roll for our customers! This is a significant drop versus RRP of £15 (our normal selling price is £14) and should help remove some of the worry or risk around trying slide for the first time.
Perfect Slide Film Processing: to help make processing as easy as possible – we have also linked up with Duncan from SilverPan Film Lab who are offering EKTACHROME processing for just £5/roll for the duration of the competition. All you need to do to access this special price is buy EKTACHROME from Analogue Wonderland within the dates of the promotion and you’ll get a discount code delivered in the parcel with your film. SilverPan are a fantastic small-scale lab and you can be confident that Duncan will give your films the perfect treatment, and be able to help you understand if the results deviate from what you were expecting.
So our hope is that all of this together makes it very easy for photographers to try slide film for the first time – and hopefully add it to their future shooting repertoire
And finally, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us over the past year. Whether that’s with social shares, feedback and advice, a sympathetic ear on a phone call, or the more pragmatic film orders – this community is so special and Analogue Wonderland wouldn’t be here, enjoying it as much as we are, without you all.
If you have any questions, thoughts or ideas for us then please do drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook via the links in my bio below.
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