In the year 1878 George Eastman won the world’s attention with his gelatin dry plates. These would replace the clunky and messy wet plate photography which still prevailed at the time. Dry plates could be exposed and developed as needed, whereas wet plates, which necessitated a coating, had to be exposed and developed immediately.
The story of the Kodak Eastman company reads like an epic trilogy, covering the rise and fall of an empire. From the start, Kodak were pioneers in their industry. They introduced innovative products for photographers and film makers for well over a century.
- In 1903 Kodak introduced their Non-Curling Film, which became the standard for all amateur photographers, for almost three decades.
- In 1928 Kodak revolutionized the motion pictures industry with their 16 mm KODACOLOR Film. This was the first microfilm ever on the market.
- In 1929 Kodak once again kept abreast of developing technologies by introducing their first motion picture film, for the emerging sound motion pictures industry.
Kodak enjoyed their position, as industry leaders in their sector, for over one century. In the early 80’s Sony released their first electronic camera. Digital photography, although it was in its embryonic stages, had already shown the potential to catapult the entire industry. An industry which could literally wipe out Kodak’s established, film based business.
In the race against advancing digital technology, Kodak had roughly ten years to adapt. Something which proved to be difficult for the 131 year old company, whose core business had been selling film. Despite all their best efforts, by 2008 Kodak was in trouble. Around that time Citigroup provided Kodak financing of $950 million to keep them afloat.
The world was left speechless, when Kodak ended up filing for bankruptcy in 2012, leaving its legacy business and selling off all its patents. It was the fall of a giant and it reverberated throughout the business world.
How could a colossal company such as Kodak have taken such a fall? In 2012, in an article entitled How Kodak Failed, Forbes referred to Kodak’s demise as a “staggering corporate blunder.” Kodak had entirely missed the opportunity to gain a foothold in the digital landscape, which ironically was a technology which Kodak themselves had introduced. Kodak’s strategic failure was heavily criticized, as Kodak’s film based business legacy was being ravaged by digital photography.
Kodak was not the only company that was unable to bridge the gap, during the digital transformation which rapidly replaced older technologies. In fact, Kodak is one of numerous companies which met a similar fate. There was Xerox, who invented the photocopier and Motorola with their mobile phone. Let’s not forget Sun Microsystems who were behind Java programming language and another giant, IBM. We can look further and find Olivetti, HP, Nokia and Blockbuster, just to name a few. All of these companies failed to adapt to the new technology which had swept across the globe and forever altered the way people worked and played.
Regardless of all the other giants who fell, with the advent of digital technology, Kodak has been used as an example of failure. No company had been as successful, with their continuous breakthroughs and innovative products. They had monopolized the market with low cost professional solutions for decades.
It was not for lack of trying that they failed, since Kodak did invent the very first digital camera in 1975. It came with a digital cassette recorder, which was the modern day equivalent of a memory card, back then. In 1991 Kodak unveiled the DCS 100, this was the very first commercially available digital SLR camera, designed with professional photojournalists in mind.
So what went wrong? How could a giant like Kodak fall? Kodak failed to develop the potential inherent in digital technology. Perhaps they were too slow or started too late. By the mid 1990’s the market was already saturated with digital products that were extinguishing Kodak from the picture.
Some say that Kodak failed to recognize the transformative power of digital technology. Kodak kept investing in film and older technologies, whereas a more winning strategy would have been to embrace digital technology full on. Kodak had the know how and experience to once again be a leader in the new and exciting digital landscape. They made their move too late. Their business was already in decline and they were trailing so far behind their competitors, they no longer stood a chance.