Kodak – Image Blurred

On 19th Jan, 2012, investors woke up to the news of Kodak’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in US Bankruptcy Court in Lower Manhattan. This gives the company an automatic stay for 6 months during which it has protection from creditors and the time to reorganise itself.

Founded in 1880, by George Eastman, Kodak became one of America’s most notable companies that established the market for camera film and then dominated the field. Neil Armstrong used a Kodak camera to take pictures on the Moon in 1969. Eighty films that have won Best Picture Oscars were shot on Kodak film and the phrase “Kodak moment” captured people’s imagination.

Analysts feel that the firm’s late entry into the digital market is a key factor in its recent troubles. Although Kodak was one of the original inventors of digital photography in the mid 70s, it did not commercially begin to manufacture digital cameras for the next two decades due to the fear of the cannibalisation of film. As a result Kodak failed to keep pace with developments in the market and competitors steadily eroded its share of the market.

Since the late 1990s, the sales of photographic film declined and the revenue from the sale of film started fading. Since 2003, the company took the decision to halt investing in its film product, closed 13 manufacturing plants and reduced its workforce by 47,000.

Kodak adopted a product innovation strategy for digital technology, and came out with model offering consumers top-quality cameras at reasonable prices and other innovative products such as a printer dock. Consumers could insert their cameras into this compact device, press a button, and watch their photos roll out. By 2005, Kodak ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in digital camera sales.

Although Kodak’s digital camera business became a roaring sales success, business it could not replicate the rich profits of the film business, as mass-market cameras yield slim profit margins. As other competitors raced into the market, the digital cameras soon became commodities that further eroded the profit margins.

To boost profit margins, Antonio Perez, who became Kodak CEO in 2005, tried a number of turnaround strategies and cost-cutting efforts. He steered Kodak away from its traditional market in cameras to focus on home and commercial printers with the hope it would create a competitive advantage. Kodak turned to patent lawsuits to generate revenue, winning settlements from LG of South Korea. Kodak also attempted to sell its digital imaging patents, but failed to garner enough interest among potential buyers, driven in part by fears of Kodak’s deteriorating financial health.

Since 2004, Kodak has reported only one full year of profit, so the attempts to reinvent the company’s core business model have yet to bear fruit. Kodak has secured $950 million in financing from Citigroup to stay afloat during Chapter 11 proceedings. It remains to be seen if the company can emerge from bankruptcy, reorganize its business structure to increase productivity, reduce cost and keep pace with the evolution. Kodak could even be looked at as a takeover target.

A stubborn culture, refusal to push forward with digital technology after creating one of the first digital cameras, and inability to reinvent the core business model led to Kodak’s failure to remain competitive in a changing world. This also shows that companies, when they are successful with a certain way of working, imbibe a strong culture, which is the company’s strength, but the same culture may also impede the company from adapting to changing needs.

4 thoughts on “Kodak – Image Blurred

  1. It was long time coming. Printing market has been shrinking as the world embraced mobile devices. A common person doesn’t buy/carry a camera anymore; the cell phones have replaced it. But I think Kodak will bounce back. It has 11,000 patents, and a slew of products. Also, Citi is providing Kodak with cash to allow the company to keep going, & Kodak plans to continue operating normally during bankruptcy. If you are bullish, then it's time to…


  2. It just proves that it is finally people who make and break organisations…lack of vision in the senior management and blindeye to the external environment..also strong and rigid work culture which may work until all's well with business but may also lead to inertia in bad times. Finally, only constant innovation can ensure survival in any industry, particularly when it comes to technology…Neha


  3. Yet another AmerIcan company that could not keep pace with frenetic quest for product innovation it's more succesful peers have undertaken…hence fallen by the wayside…by the time Kodak realized it was a tad late….


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