“We are reshaping Kodak,” chief executive Antonio Perez said.
After nearly 125 years, Eastman Kodak is, most likely, about to stop making photographic film, apart from a few specialized lines and its cinema products. The much-diminished behemoth is putting its analog film division up for sale as it reorients and re-imagines itself. The announcement of Kodak’s reorganization plan has been postponed until February, but something radical is expected. The company reported a third-quarter loss of $312 million. It’s not impossible — though it is unlikely — that Kodak will be liquidated.
This has been one tough year in Rochester, N.Y.
The digital revolution threw a lot of business models into the air, and it’s still unclear where they’ll all land. Newspapers lost classified advertising and subscribers. Network TV viewers drifted away to cable and Web sites, and lots of commercials followed them. The recording industry was upended by teenagers who discovered that they could download heaps of music for free.
But few fields have experienced upheaval in the digital age as dramatic as the shake-up in photography.
Today, Kodak is a technology company with a number of valuable patents devoted to inkjet printing. It’s also a company that makes film. But Kodachrome, its mainstay color film from the 1930s into the 1970s, was discontinued in 2010. All of its color slide films, including the classic Ektachrome, went this year. Plus-X, a fine-grained black-and-white film introduced in 1941, is gone, too.
As Tom Mooney, Kodak’s worldwide product manager for “film capture” — that is, as opposed to digital image-making — said, with a generous helping of understatement, “there are a lot of decisions being made, many of them painful.”
Kodak’s potential fire sale is in one sense a Hail Mary. A healthier company might have hung onto the business it created from scratch. (George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, invented celluloid roll film in 1888.) Fujifilm, Kodak’s main competitor in the film business since the 1980s, made some better calls about diversification and its future seems brighter.
As it turns out, the film business has fallen so far that it may have stabilized. As Mooney said, among professionals, “there isn’t that much digital incursion left.” In the past year, Kodak film sales have, for the first time in more than a decade, gone up rather than down. (At least one more blow is forthcoming, as Hollywood shifts to digital distribution of feature films. Shipping prints of a movie to thousands of theaters at once required a lot of film footage, and soon it won’t.)