The news that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US is sad news but I personally take issue with the many armchair pundits who are declaring that Kodak failed to see digital coming. They invented the first working digital camera. OK it looked more like a slide projector and recorded images onto audio cassette tape but they didn’t ignore it.They just failed to transition to a new environment well enough.
From my own deckchair perspective Kodak developed an image (!) problem in the transition to digital. They also faced a different and more diverse degree of competition which challenged the status they enjoyed in the world of analogue film production. Though Kodak did make hardware they had been used to making money from what went in the hardware rather than the hardware itself. This meant that the other big names of the film world; Canon, Olympus, Nikon etc transitioned to a different type of hardware whilst competing with the emerging far east electronics manufacturers whilst Kodak management hung on to film formats with a last ditch attempt to re-invent film in the domestic market with the curious APS camera format when perhaps they would have been better to partner with a hardware manufacture for digital cameras or hybrid film and digital products.
ln recent years they tried to replicate what they had achieved with film by trying to carve a niche with printers , packaging,ink and software.They just weren’t as successful at diversifying as their main competitor, Fuji.They probably arrogantly exploited legacy brand loyalty and familiarity beyond the point where the consumer was rewarded enough for that loyalty.
Finally Kodak most recently resorted to the last resort of pursuing their competitors in the courts with claims for a number of key technologies used in digital imaging.
I’ve used many Kodak products over the years. From Cine film to,126 instamatic, 35mm and medium format film.I still have transparencies preserved on the legendary Kodachrome, a film formulation that finally ceased production just a couple of years ago.I owned a Photo CD player in the 90’s and still have film work preserved on Gold Photo CD’s (a format aimed at photographers to bridge the film and digital worlds which no longer exists). My first digital camera was a Kodak and the most recent Kodak product I owned was a Kodak digital camera which was among the first models to offer high definition video alongside the usual digital stills.
Failure to compete often lies with bad and even arrogant management but sometimes the environment changes so much that you just get swamped and the benefits of legacy become a millstone around the corporate neck.
I wish Kodak well and hope the bankruptcy protection focusses their minds on a meaningful restructure but part of me just sees the worst posible outcome where core technologies are sold off to pay debts and the Kodak brand is purchased by another company as a way of temporarily up-branding poor quality products.
Here’s to the Kodak moments I’ve enjoyed.Thank-you Kodak.