Surf the net in a photo booth
by Alistair Osborne
THE Internet is coming to a photo booth near you after Photo-Me International and BT teamed up yesterday to let you surf the net while having your photo taken. The deal will transform the humble photo booth, which until recently only took embarrassing passport photos, into a multimedia cubicle wired for the 21st century.
Photo-Me shares rocketed 131.5 to 702.5p, though BT's fell 57 to £10.80. Under the revenue-sharing deal, booth-maker Photo-Me and telecoms giant BT plan to replace most of Britain's 4,300 photo booths with new techno booths, including screens and keypads.
From the comfort of a booth, found in many railway stations and department stores, people will be able to send e-mails, hook up to the Internet and create web sites. The booths will also take your picture and let you make customised postcards, which can be printed or sent across the web.
Serge Crasnianski, chief executive of Photo-Me, said: "You will be able to use the booths to pick up messages, send flowers or have a bet on the horses." He said it would cost "about £1 for six to 10 minutes in the booth", with each e-mail "about the cost of a first-class stamp".
John Swingewood, director of BT Internet and Multimedia Services, said it was "all part of getting more people online". BT shortly plans to introduce 1,000 multimedia phone kiosks. Mr Swingewood said: "The booths are even better because you can sit down." He refused to comment on reports that BT may offer free calls to the internet but confirmed it was "an option that's been discussed".
Mr Crasnianski said the first booths would be installed later this year, with a further 1,000 rolled out from next spring. Neither party disclosed how much they were investing, though it is thought to be less than £10m.
Photo-Me and BT are discussing their strategy for Photo-Me's 20,000 booths in the rest of the world. Mr Crasnianski explained that at the moment "a booth is only used for about 25 minutes a day". He rekoned the deal "will at least double" each booth's annual £12,000 turnover. Photo-Me and BT will share all revenues from multimedia activities, but Photo-Me will take 100pc of all photographic revenues. Photo-Me said it would write-down the value of its older photo booths by £17m.
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