Kodak On The Verge Of Becoming A Memory
By James Grahame
You've probably heard the news that Kodak is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Pundits around the world have been quick to declare that the company simply didn't embrace digital technology and fell out of step. However, I think there's more to it than that.
In actuality, Kodak was at the forefront of the digital revolution. One of the first portable digital cameras was cobbled together in their R&D facilities in 1975. The company released a lineup of digital point-and-shoots and has tens of thousands of digital photo printing kiosks installed across North America, ready to print stacks photos at the touch of the screen. They spent decades developing first-rate digital image sensors. They even launched the highly regarded Kodak Theater HD Player to let you view slide shows and videos on your TV in gloriously modern HD.
So what went wrong? Why aren't there lineups ten people deep to print photos of their latest pub crawl or cousin Sarah's Bat Mitzva?
The company isn't struggling because of a lack of digital know-how. They're struggling because our photography habits changed virtually overnight. As I commented in a thread on the Filmshooting forum:
The company did an excellent job of positioning themselves in the Kodak Memories business—use Kodak when you want a keepsake that you can hold onto for decades and share with your grand kids. But people simply don't use photography that way anymore.
These days, my wife snaps interesting and timely photos to share on Facebook. Those images are used to spark conversation and they have a very short half life. Tomorrow, it'll be something new.
The confluence of mobile phones with decent point-and-shoot capabilities and fast data connections makes it easy to beam images directly online, and there's simply no place for Kodak in the new business model. The shift is especially pronounced in the teen and young adult segment—they have Hipstamatic. It's instant, cheap and makes everything look retro cool.
Meanwhile, the Kodak photo kiosks at the local big box department store stand unused for hours on end. Yeah, someone will eventually come along and order an 8x10 enlargement or prints of Christmas morning for grandma, but it's definitely not a growth industry.
The Kodak story is a classic example of a mass technological shift. In this case, it's a double whammy—a seismic move away from film and paper photography, but also a social shift in how we perceive and share images.
What do you think? Has photography changed forever? Is there a place for Kodak in the 21st century?