Heres a telling snapshot of the creative destruction of the digital age the giant of film photography,Kodak,seems to have finally given up. Filing for bankruptcy protection does not,obviously,signal the end it may be the tough first step to recovery.
Like Xerox and Coca-Cola,Kodak seemed to own an entire business at one point. Formed in 1880,Eastman Kodak ruled film photography for over a century. Its founder,George Eastman,invented the roll film and the camera box. They also invented the business model,selling cameras cheap and making large profits on film,chemicals and paper. You press the button we do the rest, it promised. And it did,for many picture-perfect decades. In 1976,the company commanded 90 per cent of the market for photographic film and 85 per cent of the market for cameras. As Paul Simon wrote in a song called Kodachrome,You give us those nice bright colours/ You give us the greens of summers.
But like many companies that seemed eternal,Kodak lost touch with the bleeding edge of business and technological shifts. They were savaged by the Japanese Fujifilm in the 1980s,and that loss of balance was only the first of many missteps. They invented the first digital camera in 1975 but did not invest fully in the idea,concentrating on their core film business instead. Since then,they have been flailing mightily to keep up,because its primary product was outmoded by digital technology. The little money it has made has been by suing others for infringing its intellectual property. Though it is toiling away at its printers and digital devices,the sad news is that digital cameras are themselves on the way out,replaced by feature-laden smartphones. Can Kodak grab its moment back?