Fall of an Imaging Giant

I have been involved in digital imaging circles since consumer digital camera products hit the market. I have personally lived through the fall of Polaroid (my company had significant product inventory in their warehouse when they went bankrupt) and saw a dying company that never grasped digital imaging as the future. Kodak surely had similar issues with their slow transition from film to digital products but how is it possible that the inventor of the digital camera did not see the winds of change quickly enough to capitalize on the new digital imaging market?

Here is what I saw in a Gizmodo blog yesterday:

Kodak Is a Walking Corpse of a Company and That Makes Us Sad

Oh, Kodak, once the acme of all things camera, now a stark lesson in Darwinism in technology. You adapt and evolve, or you die. It was revealed today that Kodak is shedding more than $70 million a month. Let’s hold hands.

Kodak insists there is no impending bankrupcy, and that they have $862 million in cash, but bleeding money at the rate they are, that won’t last them through 2012. Maybe that’s what the Mayans were pointing toward this whole time: the end of an epoch, the death of a king. At the time of this writing, Kodak is valued at $1.05.

The sad thing is not just that Kodak was great in the past. They’re still making some fantastic things—like the highly revered image sensor in the Leica S2—they’re just not making any money off of them. Their plan to get back into the black? They hope to win patent lawsuits against Apple and RIM. Yes, because Apple is very easy to sue. Oh, and they still have printers! Just like HP still has printers. Sigh.

Kodak isn’t dead, but the time for resuscitation is rapidly running out. The laws of evolution have caught up to them. Unless they come up with something new and wonderful that everybody wants, they will be a memory. I’m not going to wax nostalgic about Kodak’s long history—Michael Hiltzik’s L.A. Times article did a better job of that than I could have—but I will say this: we see companies go the way of the dodo all the time, and usually they’re met with a shrug. Kodak is different. They are a well-entrenched part of American (and global) history. When it goes we’ll feel just that much further away from the Norman Rockwell paintings of yesterday. [L.A. Times]

The “Kodak Moment” – over 100 years of imaging history seems to be over. Sadness aside, is this just the normal order of business Darwinism? Was it near impossible to shift the inertia of this large company from film to digital business models? How many C-suite executives could of handled this significant of a market transition?

My thoughts are very few.