Eastman Kodak: An Analog Company in a Digital World


When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Kodachrome
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!

Paul Simon, “Kodachrome,” from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973

Eastman Kodak filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday. $5.1 billion in assets; $6.8 billion in liabilities. Of the $6.8 billion in red ink, about $245 million a year is pension obligations. Another group of employees is about to get stiffed on their pensions, at a time when the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government insurer of retirement funds, is already insolvent.

Of course, the last bit of Kodachrome film was gradually phased out between 1996 and 2009, and the last lab that processed Kodachrome closed in 2010. As a metaphor for Kodak, it’s not bad.

But Kodak was a lot more than Kodachrome film, even if Paul Simon linked it indelibly. (There’s even a Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah.)

Kodak actually saw the digital revolution coming in photography, and after its earlier loss of market share to Polaroid – remember Polaroids? – acted preemptively and released some of the early digital cameras. But Kodak couldn’t keep up with either the improvements in sensors out of Japan or the improvements in on-camera processing software in the U.S. Kodak never really got on board the digital bus. While Kodak holds some of the early key patents in digital photography, it was never able to turn those patents into a profitable product.

WC is baffled by Kodak’s recent strategy. On the one hand, it wants to sell inkjet printers, staying in the business of making photos. On the other hand, it has turned into a patent troll, suing anyone and everyone that it thought infringed on the patents it could not use profitably itself. Kodak couldn’t seem to understand that you can’t be a patent troll and expect your inkjet printers to be viewed favorably by the photography industry or photographers.

WC has thousands of Kodak™ prints. A few have been scanned and digitized, but most sit in boxes, gathering dust. And now Eastman Kodak itself stares at a similar fate. Kodak has joined slide rule manufacturers, 8-track and cassette tapes, day timers, encyclopedias and countless other products as roadkill on the digital highway.

Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome
(Leave your boy so far from home)
Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome (away)

Farewell and good luck, Kodak.

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One thought on “Eastman Kodak: An Analog Company in a Digital World

  1. Greetings WC –

    Lest you not forget Kodak trying to go the proprietary route by issuing with their (digital) cameras some utterly crap software that did nothing but frustrate the living daylights out of anyone trying to use it. The only 5 people who found EasyShare actually “easy” to use and email / exchange photos with friends were the few remaining inhabitants on earth incapable of using a computer. It’s a shame really, another American company evaporating. But

    I’ve already scanned all my old ‘photos’, put them on the computer and tossed the originals. I’m working on my Mother’s and next will be the Grandmothers’. All arranged by year, with names of the people (relatives) tagged. Is something lost by not having the ‘original’ shiny piece of paper? Not really. Except maybe our wedding album, there has been a line drawn in the sand over that one. And I’m not going to cross it, or ‘something’ would be lost. 🙂

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