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Start-up Ofoto appeals to low-tech photographers

The company will process film for free for those who still use non-digital cameras to take snapshots, the company is scheduled to announce tomorrow.

In the crowded field of digital photography, many start-ups are tripping over themselves offering freebies and giveaways as incentives for first-time users.

Ofoto, a newly launched Berkeley, Calif., company, is no different.

Beginning next week, Ofoto will process film for free for those who still use non-digital cameras to take snapshots, the company is scheduled to announce tomorrow.

Ofoto also will announce that it has scored key partnerships with Excite@Home and WebShops.com.

Launched Dec. 17, Ofoto specializes in digital photo finishing. It recently received $16 million in a first round of financing from The Barksdale Group and Benchmark Capital.

In its relationship with Excite@Home, consumers will be able to order prints from Ofoto while visiting Excite's photo center. A similar arrangement will be set up through the strategic partnership with WebShops.

James Joaquin, president of Ofoto, said the company decided to offer free film processing services to still-camera users as a way of ushering them into the digital world.

Despite rosy forecasts that digital camera use will take off--research firm International Data Corp. predicts that sales will grow from about 4.7 million units in 1999 to 22 million by 2003--many, Joaquin found, are still taking pictures the way they did in the 1970s: with still cameras.

The company will make money by selling prints to customers. A 4-by-6 print, for example, costs 49 cents, while a 5-by-7 print is 99 cents, Joaquin said.

Ofoto faces tough competition from a slew of other digital photography companies, such as Jim Clark's latest venture, Shutterfly.com; Hewlett-Packard's service, Cartogra; and newcomer Snapfish.com, which also offers photo processing to non-digital camera users.