Film faded, but Kodak didn't develop
Eastman Kodak was once the epitome of American corporate might and inventiveness. Last Friday, its shares fell below US$1 after the 131-year-old maker of film and cameras announced it had hired lawyers to restructure the company. Investors fear that may be a code word for bankruptcy.
It is a sad fate for a once-mighty hi-tech company that failed to adapt.
For decades, Kodak was synonymous with quality. Its silver halide film and paper were musts for professionals and Hollywood. And with its Brownie camera, which sold millions in the 1950s and '60s, Kodak created a consumer revolution. It put photography in the hands of Everyman.
Kodak surely saw the omens in the internet, digital cameras, Facebook-sharing. But the company thought of itself, too much, as being in the film business instead of the image business.
Kodak democratised picture-taking. But it mistakenly thought that the great thing it had done was put a film camera in everyone's hands. No, what it had done was give people the ability to capture moments.
Ironically, Kodak even had that as its slogan: 'Capture the Kodak moment.' It did not follow the thought deeply enough. We consumers don't care if that moment is on film; if we can do it just as well with digital, we'll go to digital.
If Kodak had seen itself as a capture-the-moment company, it might have had a different outcome. So, too, for crippled US newspaper companies if they'd seen they were in the knowledge-transfer business, not the printed-paper business; or record labels, if they'd seen they were in the music business, not the LP- or CD-making business. Like them, Kodak failed to capture the moment and is paying the price.