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Zing Hopes Photo Portal Will Develop Quickly

So you think your kids, dog, garden or home are the cutest, most photogenic, beautiful or spectacular on the planet? Then Zing is the place to put up or shut up.

Billing itself as the Internet's first "photography portal community," Zing has raised more than $17 million -- $14 million of that just last week -- in a bid to establish an Amazon-like market presence in the next six months. This second round was lead by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and included Bass family fund Arbor Investors and Alloy Ventures which invested in the first round.

But even with the big check from the big VCs and the exaggeration about being first, Zing has its work cut out for it in a nascent market with some fairly formidable competition led by PhotoPoint, publicly traded PhotoLoft (LOFT), Club Photo and others.

Despite Zing's PR spin and PhotoLoft's claim to being number one, analyst Michelle Lampmann of Boston-based InfoTrends said there is "no clear leader" in this market. The benchmarks, however, look slanted in Zing's favor.

PhotoLoft has agreements with a number of online communities such as PowWow to host photos for millions of users, but its unclear just how many users they have in their own right. PhotoPoint doesn't talk about users, but in July boasted of the one-millionth photo being posted. Zing, on the other hand, looks to have bragging rights with 700,000 registered members. Even a quick glance at the Zing site shows an average of about 10 photos per member.

Zing and its competition offer free online space for its members to upload photos which can be shared with others or kept private for friends and family. Zing also offers software to arrange images into slide shows, screen savers, greeting cards (that can be sent electronically or printed out for an extra fee), guestbooks, discussion boards and the ability (for a fee) to have images applied to tee shirts, mugs, holiday ornaments, calendars and even cookies and cakes with edible photo icing. While Zing's competitors offer some of these same features, none so far has its breadth and depth.

Lampmann said the explosive growth of online photo communities is being driven by the adoption of digital cameras and by the availability of film-to-CD processing options offered by Kodak. The digital camera market, she said, is about 12 percent, representing some 1.8 million units in projected 1999 sales versus 15 million film cameras. Film camera sales are expected to remain flat at their 1999 level while digital sales should hit about 6 million units by 2003.

Zing is approaching its business (as are its competitors) with multiple profit models including advertising, e-mail direct offers to members, site sponsorship and e-tailing services and products.

The image of this market is still unfocused as Zing and its competition gear up for a market which should more fully develop over the next 12 months. But as the saying goes, there are no negatives with digital photography.


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