04 Jan 2018 15:13 IST

There is a selfie economy, and it means business

Selfie cameras and sticks have helped economists find a better name to the business

I’m not surprised. This is the age of the selfie!

You bet! But the economy we discuss today extends beyond those funny front-camera photos you post on social media. To be fair, there has always been a selfie economy, which, simply put, comprises of products and services that target enhancing consumer’s ‘self’ traits — looks, self-esteem, etc.

Selfie cameras and sticks have in fact helped economists and sociologists find a better name to the business. Sample this cafe in London, which, Reuters reported recently, is taking barista art to a new level by giving customers the chance to sip on their own self-portraits.

What? How?

Welcome “Selfieccino”. The drink is only available at the Tea Terrace, based in House of Fraser’s Oxford Street branch in London. The Selfieccino features an image of customers’ faces on the frothy topping of their drinks, according to Reuters.

Ha! Drink thyself!

Customers can send their photos (face shots) through an online messaging app to the barista; when they arrive, their drink, a cappuccino or hot chocolate, on which the image is reprodued using flavorless food colouring, with the help of the “Cino” machine to which the photo is uploaded. You can take photos of the drink and post them on social media before drinking. The whole affair costs around $7.5.

Interesting!

This is just one of the many instances of smart business ideas that get inspired by what Simon Usborne observed in a recent Guardian article: “our passion for narcissistic pictures (which) is fuelling the growth of everything from lipstick to old-fashioned photobooths.” Just like selfies, lipsticks once powered the growth of the narcissistic market. Some economists think lipsticks still continue to be a big sphere of influence even in the age of selfies.

Tell me more about it!

Usborne cites an economic theory, which he admits is “disputed”, which says lipstick is a harbinger of economic gloom. In bad times, we tend to buy cheaper luxury goods, so sales of make-up products rise. Interestingly, last year saw a surge in such products in the UK and elsewhere, but this trend was not exactly a mark of bad times, but owed to Kylie Jenner, reality TV start and a sibling of Kim Kardashian, and many such narcissistic celebrities who have triggered a boom in the selfie economy.

Phew!

Just a few months ago, The Independent reported that a “selfie generation” craving for flawless looks on social media is pumping up cosmetics sales, estimated to be £1 billion (about ₹9,000 crore) a year in the UK, according to data analytics firm IRI. A study from the US found that in 2016, the beauty industry grew by $1 billion, with make-up products accounting for a big slice. With the exponential rise in YouTube tutorials by celebrities and even amateur ‘good-looking’ men and women, on how to make yourself up so well that you look great in your selfies, the market for narcissistic products is only going to balloon. The trends in the smartphone market, where now we have cameras that boast of employing artificial intelligence to enhance selfies (Oppo F5 is an example from the Indian market), are just the tip of the iceberg of business opportunities.

So, cameras and make-up products are the only components of this economy?

Not at all. This is an emerging, expanding area of commerce. A recent study says the global selfie stick market will grow at an impressive compounded annual growth rate of over 26 per cent by 2020 to over $200 million. Also seeing impressive growth are segments such as cosmetic surgeries, photo booths, photo retouch apps, and more. Watch this space.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)