That ‘Top 16 Photo Companies in the World’ List is Really Suspect

camera sales numbers

In early February, a story on Yahoo came across our news desk and caught our attention: The 16 Largest Photography Companies in the World. We’ve recently seen it get some traction in our industry and as such want to explain why we chose not to cover it.

It is very unusual for us to provide this kind of explanation of why we choose to or don’t choose to cover a story on PetaPixel, but given the amount of attention this story got and what we discovered about it when it first came across our desk, we decided to share that with you all to serve as a cautionary tale.

In short, this story positions a respected research group as the source of its information but doesn’t actually use that data. Additinally, it funnels traffic to a different location by hiding the top five companies from the list on Yahoo, forcing clicks to a website that is littered with ads. It’s cherry-picked, inaccurate information that masquerades as truth.

Because the website is so filled with ads that it actually almost crashed one of our staff member’s computers, we have elected not to link directly to the “publication” where this list originates and only refer to it as the “publication” in this story — but the link is easy enough to find for those who are brave.

The Setup

The story got its legs from a partial list that was published through Yahoo’s network. It starts by hitting readers immediately with a link to a respectable-sounding market research firm: Zion Market Research. Zion has shared its own independent findings and provides some estimations for where it believes the camera market will go. Most of the hard numbers are kept exclusive for the full paid report, but a good deal of data can be seen in the company’s press release about it.

This information is what is used as the setup for this list along with a link to secondhand coverage of Nikkei’s market share data (why the story doesn’t actually link to the data directly is anyone’s guess).

That’s all well and good and at this point, we would have no issue — except that’s not what is being used to create this list. If you read just one more section down, you’ll see what we mean. Under “methodology,” which is the only section that matters when sourcing a document, the “publication” reveals where it actually got the data:

“We have scoured multiple reports and websites to analyze the scale of operations, growth prospects, and revenue of these companies,” the story says.

That is “multiple reports” and “websites” with no citations and no actual data. On that note, we’re not even sure why 2021 data is chosen or is even relevant for a story published in 2023, since 2022 data is now available.

Basically, this “publication” cites reputable-sounding data to set up the list but doesn’t actually use any of it to create said list. In fact, if you look at the “key players” that Zion mentions in its data, the 16 companies aren’t even the same 16 that are listed in the “publication’s” story.

It gets worse.

‘Just Google It’

What you might notice about this list of companies is that many of them are not publicly traded which means actual revenue data isn’t publicly available. B&H Photo and Adorama are great examples of this, and their actual revenues aren’t visible — the best anyone can do is estimate outside of getting leaked data directly from the company.

So we were not surprised to find that many of these numbers were just pulled from the top result of a Google search. Try it yourself and Google, “Adorama 2021 annual revenue,” and presto, you’re on your way to putting together your own poorly sourced list.

Even a closer examination of the companies on this list shows some holes. For example, why is Lifetouch even listed? It is a weird one to include because it’s not even an independent company — it’s a subsidiary of Shutterfly, which means that inclusion on this list should have gone to the parent company, which makes a heck of a lot more combined with all assets than just one. I want to point out that neither Lifetouch or Shutterfly is actually found on the Zion report’s list.

While a couple of years older than the data that is presented in this report, Lifetouch was actually sourced by its parent company as having a revenue of $350 million in 2018. Jumping to $1.5 billion by 2021 could, I guess, be possible, but that sounds incredibly unlikely, especially given that Shutterfly as a whole reports an annual revenue of $1.95 billion. You’re telling me that Lifetouch makes up a majority of all Shutterfly’s business?

The closer you look at this report, the more holes you find.

While the report doesn’t ever specify, our assumption is that their data is based on just camera divisions of the big names, not overall revenue because those numbers are way off — Canon as an entire business did $31 billion, and this list only claims $5.11 billion. Fujifilm as a whole does $20 billion, while this list only claims $1.7 billion.

Okay, so that must mean we’re looking at specific divisions only, except that presents problems in and of itself — if we’re going to just list Canon’s camera business, we must also assume we are only looking at B&H’s camera sales, right? You can’t include their audio sales in there if so, right? You can see the issue here.

Even if you assume the numbers are correct, which we have our doubts about, there are still more problems.

Inconsistent Earnings Reports

Look, this industry is incredibly complicated. The way that these big camera companies break up their numbers is not consistent among them, either. How Canon defines its imaging division versus how Sony, Nikon, or Fujifilm do means that the numbers are not able to be one-for-one compared.

Let’s start with just looking at the data and taking it for what it says. According to what is presented, Fujifilm allegedly did $1.71 billion in revenue in 2021. Okay, even if we take that information at face value, Fujifilm sells a lot of different products. That number doesnt’ tell me anything about the X series or the GFX cameras. Even if that number is just the imaging division, does that include medical imaging? Scanners? Film? Printers? Instax? If so, then the $1.71 billion means even less.

For the sake of further argument, let’s look at Canon. The company’s report shows about $6.06 billion in revenue for 2022 for just its imaging division. That would be a significant increase over what the “publication” claimed Canon did in 2021 ($5.11 billion), yet it is perhaps plausible. But even still, Canon’s Imaging Business Unit includes network cameras, video software, broadcast equipment, projectors, and its compact printers (but not large-format or inkjet printers, those are the printing business). That’s extremely messy and doesn’t give you as a reader any actual useful information about the health of its camera business.

And therein lies the rub, right? This story was crafted to give you just enough information to think it was legitimate and then put it into an easy list. But this sort of thing isn’t easy, and just tossing these names around like they are is extremely irresponsible.

They Just Want Clicks

Even if some of these numbers are right, I hope the explanation above into the way they are presented shows you why we at PetaPixel chose not to just share them. There are too many unanswered questions, inconsistencies, and the manner in which the data was presented felt deceptive.

To actually provide useful, real information would take a lot of time and serious research, which we gather is probably why that didn’t happen here. We don’t think this report was done in malice, but it does highlight a situation we think is critical for readers to think about: it is important to really look at the source of data before believing it.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.