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The End of an Era – Kodak Files for Bankruptcy

January 21, 2012

For those of you who may not have seen the story, Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection this past Thursday.

This did not come as much of a surprise to many of us who have been actively in photography for the last few years.  One news source, who I cannot locate, made the comment that the news of Kodak’s bankruptcy was similar to that of learning that a distant elderly relative had passed away.  It made you sad, but it only surprised you in that the final act of dying took as long as it did.

Kodak’s business model from the early days of the company was very similar to that of today’s inkjet printer companies.  Sell the camera at (or sometimes below) cost and then make your profit by selling the consumables (film, developer, paper, etc).   And the Kodak name was all-powerful when it came to film and printing.  Even if you didn’t own a Kodak camera, you likely reached for the Kodak film because it was the gold standard.

But then two things happened.  First, Fujifilm got into the game with a lower priced and often technologically superior film.  Fuji Velvia 50 may have been the best slide film for nature photography that was ever made.  And then the digital revolution occurred.  Take film out of the equation and the writing was on the wall.

Kodak had chances to reverse this trend.  They were at the forefront of digital photography technology.  I have read that they either purposefully shelved the technology or delayed their full embrace of it because they knew it would break their business model.  Unfortunately for them, others fully embraced digital and left them in the dust.

Kodak made a very good dye-sub printer that made prints far superior to that of ink jet prints.  I owned one.  But the initial cost of the printer was very high (around $800 in 2002) and the cost of the consumables (paper and ribbon) made going to the local Wal-Mart and getting prints done there a considerably cheaper alternative.  If they could have gotten the costs down on the front and back ends of the equation, the printer would have sold millions of units and Kodak would still be known for the print.

Kodak hopes to survive bankruptcy with either the sale or the licensing of certain patents they own, but even those are in dispute and likely will be subject to re-examination by the patent office.  If they can get cash flow to return, then they want to return to making digital cameras and ink-jet printers.

Even if they manage to emerge successfully from bankruptcy, this an era is certainly over. Too many other players are in the digital photography game.  They have no real brand awareness when it comes to digital cameras or printers.  And people associate Kodak with something their parents and grandparents used, not something that is new and fresh.

I envision that the same thing that is happening with Polaroid will happen to Kodak-the name is sold as an asset and it will be attached willy-nilly here and there to the point where that proud name is associated with cut-rate junk.

In the end, the true innovator in getting photography into the hands of the people could not survive the shifting sands, or grains if you will, of the digital revolution.  Rest in peace, Kodak.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 21, 2012 9:15 am

    A very great post, Jim. Excellent!

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