When his father died in 2005, Dale Pelletier, a vice president of the Allianz SE insurance company in Chicago, inherited boxes of black-and-white photos and a sense of obligation to make copies for his four siblings. But after a few evenings spent scanning them into his computer, he gave up because "it was a lot of work and a lot of time."
Then last year he learned about an online mail-order service called ShoeboxReprints.com in Irvine, Calif., that would scan as many as 1,000 photos for $49.95 and send back the images on a CD. Mr. Pelletier used the service, and then used the images to create a book of his father's life using mypublisher.com, an online photo-book company.
Since then, he has used the scanning service to digitize all of his mother's old pictures as well as the pictures he took before he switched to digital cameras five years ago. "I've had 3,000 photos scanned. Everything is in iPhoto in my Mac, and now the fun begins," he says. He used some of them to make a book and a slide show for his daughter's 16th birthday party.
An increasing number of photo-service stores are starting to offer quick and economical scanning services for shutterbugs, many of whom have thousands of snapshots "archived" in shoeboxes and plastic crates in attics and closets.
The scanned images may not be sharp enough to blow up into much bigger prints. And the images are stored as numbered files on the CD, so you have to open the image to know what the picture is. But, once the pictures are digitized on a CD or DVD, it is easy to make more copies or store and label them on a computer hard drive.
"I'm just glad there's a service like this," says Jo Ann Cotton, a head-start teacher, who had 454 pictures scanned at Blosser's Camera & Portrait Studio in Warsaw, Ind. Ms. Cotton's son in Pittsburgh, who is getting married in May, had asked her to send him childhood pictures for a presentation he was preparing. "But we only had one copy of each photo, and I didn't like sending them through the mail in case they got lost or damaged," she says.
Flatbed scanners costing less than $100 can make high-quality copies, but most users quickly tire of lifting up the top cover, placing a photo on the glass, pushing the "scan" button and waiting for the image to be transferred to the computer. Some photo stores charge $1 a print or more for the service.
A rising number of photo-store owners and online businesses now use high-speed document scanners with automatic feeders that can handle scores of photos, letting them charge less. Xerox Corp., Canon Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. all market scanners in the $1,000 range that can handle 25 to 50 images a minute.
One of the most popular scanners among photo stores is Eastman Kodak Co.'s i1220 model, which can handle 25 pictures at a time, from wallet-size to 8-by-10 inches, and is less prone to jamming. The scanner has a list price of $1,199 but sells online for less than $900.
When a Kodak salesman demonstrated the device at a convention of photo-store owners last fall, he got orders for 150 machines within hours, says Brent Bowyer, president of Independent Photo Imagers, a trade association and buying group in Charleston, W.Va.
For photo stores, many of which were hurt by consumers' shift to digital photography and the resulting decline in sales of film and photo printing, scanning services are a promising new opportunity. In addition to scanning, the stores can charge extra for premium services like editing scanned pictures to eliminate defects like "red eye."
Tom Skaggs, who owns Blosser's and bought the Kodak device in November, says the scanning service has "brought in a lot of business." He advertised it on the radio before Christmas and says he can turn a profit even at his low introductory price of $49.99 for 500 photos.
Chris Lydle, owner of Chris's Camera Center in Aiken, S.C., installed a system before Christmas and charges $59.99 to scan 500 images. He says "it's more labor intensive than we thought," and he may raise prices. Still, he says, it can bring additional business. "Our fond hope is once they scan them, they'll have duplicates made for siblings and then people will make pictures" in the store.
Kodak's document-imaging unit hadn't even considered the old-photo problem when it developed the scanner. Lois Powell, Kodak's manager for document imaging, says her division is descended from the company's old microfiche business and markets to big companies that need to make digital copies of paper documents like insurance forms and checks.
Kodak is still assessing the market. Among other possibilities is a self-service bulk-scanning kiosk where consumers could load their own pictures. Kodak's chief executive, Antonio Perez, says the company is developing software that can sort and label scanned photos by the date they were taken and possibly group together multiple images of a person.
Ms. Powell says rapidly scanned images are fine for printing snapshots, but if someone anticipates printing a larger-size picture, they should scan the picture on a flat-bed scanner with higher resolution. Auto-feed scanners also can't handle photos mounted on cardboard or color Polaroid pictures, which are too thick.
She says Kodak was alerted to the potential of the market by Mitch Goldstone, president of 30 Minute Photos Etc., the Irvine, Calif., photo retailer who started ShoeboxReprints.com. Mr. Goldstone, a long-time photo-processor, saw the scanner two years ago and began urging Kodak to adapt it for photo-service shops.
Mr. Goldstone bought a high-speed Kodak scanner that costs more than $40,000 and can automatically handle thousands of pictures at a time. He recently changed the name of his Web site to ScanMyPhotos.com and is marketing a new $99.95 service that will send consumers a postage-paid box that they can stuff with as many as 2,000 photos to be scanned to a DVD.
His biggest order was for 19,000 photos that he put on eight DVDs. Scrolling through a DVD with that many pictures to find a particular wedding or trip can be challenging because images are labeled with four-digit numbers. Mr. Goldstone suggests that since the scanners handle all kinds of documents, customers can put index cards in the box of photos describing each group of photos. When viewing thumbnail images on a computer screen, that makes it easy to see where one group ends and the next begins. He also sells proof books with 25 images on each page for $2.49 a page.
Mark Susson, a personal-injury lawyer in Newport Beach, Calif., who had used 30 Minute Photos to make pictures for trials, says he has brought in 8,000 pictures to be scanned. While flying to Chicago for a friend's funeral last year, he used the iMovie program on his Apple Macintosh to create a slide show with music. He says the pictures were flashed on a big screen during the church service and "the movie has been copied dozens of times for her relatives."
Theresa Gavagan, a residential developer in Anaheim, Calif., says when she heard about the store's scanning service, she brought in 6,250 photos in a plastic crate. "The purpose was to give copies of all of them to my ex-husband," she says. "We're still on great terms. Rather than divide them up, we agreed to duplicate everything."