From photo industry giant to bankruptcy: what happened to Kodak?

Jun 15, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

From photo industry giant to bankruptcy: what happened to Kodak?

Jun 15, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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For 100 years, the name Kodak was a synonym for photography. But in recent years they went from being the industry leader to filing for bankruptcy. In this video, Company Man explored the decline of the company and tries to answer the question: what happened to Kodak?

YouTube video

The success

The Eastman Kodak Company, or simply Kodak, was founded by George Eastman and Henry Strong in 1888. The full name of the company comes in part from George Eastman’s last name. And as for the word Kodak, it was chosen just because, well, it sounded good and it was easy to pronounce, as the video explains.

During the most part of the 20th century, Kodak was the absolute leader in the photography industry. They made photography easier and available to the general public, which certainly makes a part of their success. They made film processing easier and more affordable thanks to the legendary Kodachrome. They introduced the concept of snapshot to the public, encouraging people to capture their precious moments in time without worrying about getting the perfect shots. As a result, people related the tagline “Kodak moment” with meaningful, photo-worthy moments of their lives.

The decline

In 1976, Kodak had 85% market share in cameras and 90% market share in film. And they were doing so well for such a long time. In 2005, their net income started to decline significantly. So, what happened? Was your first thought “digital cameras?” Sure, this was the time when digital cameras started to really in popularity. But it’s more complicated than that. See, in 1975, an electrical engineer at Kodak Steven Sasson invented the digital camera. Three years later, Kodak received a patent for it.

During the nineties, while digital cameras were on the rise, Kodak didn’t ignore them. The company was selling digital cameras during this time and was even the leader in this field. But, the decline still occurred in 2005. The conclusion coming from Company Man is that this happened because Kodak didn’t focus on digital cameras… enough.

Kodak didn’t ignore digital cameras, but they didn’t give them a full attention either. The company underestimated just how big the digital would get, and it was apparently a big mistake.

Why did this happen?

Company Man describes Kodak’s wrong prediction as nothing but “blind optimism.” But still, it’s strange for the biggest photography company not to predict the future of the industry. The video explains that this probably happened because Kodak knew about film, perfected many processes, and even invented some of them. Film was how they made money, and they hardly made any of it by selling cameras.

With digital cameras, there was no film and no prints. So the camera, one thing which used to make Kodak very little money, became the only thing people wanted.

Finally, with other brands producing digital cameras, Kodak wasn’t the industry leader any longer. They were competing, just like everyone else. And they didn’t do well, which finally led them to filing for bankruptcy in 2012.

Conclusion

Kodak came out of the bankruptcy and still exists today, but now they deal with other technologies (even blockchain). Their revenues are much smaller and they still struggle. But as Company Man says, maybe we can just watch them as a giant who revolutionized the photography industry and led it for 10 years. “They did some great things for photography and maybe it was just their time to go. What they did best was no longer needed. In today’s world, it would be impossible for them to exist in the same way.” But still, Kodak should be remembered for “their century of success, not their decade of struggle.”

[The Decline of Kodak…What Happened? via FStoppers]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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11 responses to “From photo industry giant to bankruptcy: what happened to Kodak?”

  1. Huge Dom Avatar
    Huge Dom

    I agree, is a shame that Kodak started making consumer digital camera much earlier than Fuji. I was one of the early adapter, even picking one over Sony’s offers since the Kodak model looked good and like a normal camera (designed in Japan), felt good and sturdy in hand, rendered very good jpgs and saved in SD instead of floppy disk. However, they didn’t keep the momentum going, later models were outpaced by competitors and they were no longer in the sector that they invented.

    1. Jay Lamont Avatar
      Jay Lamont

      Cell phones have replaced Cameras & camcorders as an all in one device!

  2. Mark Chiles Avatar
    Mark Chiles

    They also ruled film in the radiology industry. Around the same time digital cameras were taking the place of film cameras, radiology departments started going digital as well. Kodak went the route of creating and selling film scanners (film to digital converters) but failed to take hold of actually making the X-Ray, CT, MRI equipment that was now digital.

  3. jason bourne Avatar
    jason bourne

    Typical American company upper management narrow-mindedness. GM and Chrysler are similar examples. An “If it ain’t broke, why fix it” mindset.

    1. JDVERNELL Avatar
      JDVERNELL

      So now they’re producing generic drugs..after bankruptcy…I wonder who loses from the bankruptcy?

      1. Jay Lamont Avatar
        Jay Lamont

        Shareholders

        1. Julie McKee Rowe Avatar
          Julie McKee Rowe

          Employees or rather former employees lost from the bankruptcy. I dated a brilliant man who worked there. About 5 years after he was laid off ( his job was his pride and joy and gave him his sense if worth) he killed himself. I wonder what the statistics are for former Kodak employees and suicides.

  4. Ben Gibson Sr Avatar
    Ben Gibson Sr

    Companies are started by engineers, then they are run by marketing, then they are run by finance, then they are run by lawyers. Kodak lived and died a natural death that took 130 years. Sure, they still exist as a shadow of its former self. The problem wasn’t that management didn’t see or get the future, there was a fundamental difference in the cash conversion and revenue that shareholders wouldn’t tolerate. IBM, GE and many other companies that capitalized billions of dollars of assets to create products that people no longer buy can’t turn on a dime. Only pundits and hindsight analysts think they can..

  5. Jay Lamont Avatar
    Jay Lamont

    Kodak went into inkjet printers not too long ago advertising them as cheap ink, I had one! The problem was it counted the number of prints and stop printing regardless if you had ink left you weren’t able to get one last print and had to replace the cartridge. It eventfully quit & ended up at Staples to recycle.

  6. DM Avatar
    DM

    As a photography retailer, Kodak was one of my worst suppliers. Kodak sales representatives would come to my store and insist that if I put in the yellow box it would sell just because it was yellow. Let me tell you that the GREEN box from FUJI was a better profit maker as well as a better product for me and my customers. Kodak failed to update their digital cameras fast enough and at the same time came out with new formats for film which cost processors lots of money to convert labs to process it, and the new format films were short lived and many processors were not able to recoup the cost of the change before the format was discontinued. Kodak did not compete in price with Fuji, nor did it compete in quality with its cameras and often did not provide a steady supply. My store was less than 200 miles from Kodak, and I rarely saw a Kodak representative once a year. I got service from Fuji every single month until Fuji decided to drop its consumer line of digital cameras a few years ago which was caused by the the cell phone. It is most definitely the cell phone that killed the photographic companies more than any other product on the market. Fuji still makes a fantastic professional camera, but I wounder how long even Fuji, Canon, Nikon can last with the declining sales of digital cameras and the improvement of the cell phone. Many camera companies have gone out of business like Yashica, Contax, Minolta, Konica, Keystone, Vivitar all of which were booming in the 80’s. I have been in the Photo Retail business for 50 years, and yes, I too will close my business at the end of this year because of the cell phone. Cell phones can not take photos as good as a high quality digital camera, but they are getting better and better every year and for most people, the photos are good enough to make the user happy. Kodak was big enough to do something with cell phones, but they were too full of themselves to see that film had an end in sight and they fell like a lead ball.

  7. Martin Bryant Avatar
    Martin Bryant

    Kodak declined as a supplier of film before the digital photography era. There is a story oft repeated in the quality industry that Kodak noticed that they were losing sales to Fuji – and not just among retail tourists but among respected photographers. So they asked some of the engineers to buy some Fuji film and try it out. The Kodak engineers bought the Fuji film from a local drug store and subjected it to the quality testing they used for Kodak film and the Fuji film was perfect. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but the Kodak testing was not even able to detect the variation in the Fuji film – it’s consistency was that much better than the Kodak film. Kodak had thought that since their film was near to “measurably perfect” they had the best film – but obviously Fuji had better equipment. Testing near to measurably perfect was actually a problem for them because it left them thinking they couldn’t improve and someone else improved beyond them.