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BT deal adds e-mail to photo booths

A JOINT venture launced yesterday linking Photo-Me and British Telecom will make multi-media services available to consumers through the curtained photobooths found in rail stations, airports and shopping centres around Britain.

The transformation of Photo-Me's familiar booths, most often used for passport photos and mug shots, will allow users to access the Internet, send, retrieve and print e-mail messages as well as create their own websites with pictures. Photo-Me booths, previously used only for photography, will be replaced and redesigned to include screens and keypads.

The multi-media booths will be operated with a prepaid swipecard, a credit card or cash. Installations are to begin later this year with 1,000 booths due to be operating by spring 2000. Photo-Me shares rocketed 131.5p or 23 per cent, to 702.5p.

BT and Photo-Me expect to replace up to 3,000 booths per year over a five-to-seven year rollout period. Eventually, most of Photo-Me's 22,000 booths globally could be fitted out with multi-media capability.

"It's a new development of electronic technology," said Photo-Me chief executive Serge Crasnianski. "I believe this system is helpful because you will have instant e-mail access whether you're in France, Germany, the UK or elsewhere for the price of a postage stamp."

Mr Crasnianski said the booths will eventually provide access to electronic commerce, banking transactions and even gambling through links with Las Vegas casinos. The booths will also have facilities to plug in digital cameras and print out or e-mail photographic images.

The new booths will cost pounds 12,000 to pounds 15,000 each. Photo-Me will finance the investment through operating cash flow along with an unspecified "multi- million pound investment" from BT.

Mr Crasnianski said the multi-media booths are anticipated to generate pounds 24,000 annually - double current levels. He said some newly launched digital booths have already seen 70 per cent revenue gains.