A look at the deep swan dive taken by Polaroid’s analog film business, and at the tiny companies that have bobbed along picking up bits of its business after the collapse, provides useful guidance to whoever buys Kodak’s film division — and some cautionary tales, as well.
1 Don’t be afraid to raise prices.
Yes, the remaining buyers of film are weighing this technology against digital methods of image-making. But they’re not choosing film for reasons of economy; it could never compete. They are choosing it for a particular look and feel, and because they want to differentiate themselves. Some are old-school professionals who prefer to work in familiar ways. Others are people who “have gone to digital and come back,” Mooney said, “and it’s hard to quantify how many, but they’ve come back for workflow or aesthetics or because they want to stand out.” And then there are the hipster kids, “the younger creative crowd that grew up with digital and moved to film, Mooney said, “and we hear that group is growing.”
Polaroid almost caught that wave, but its shutdown came just a hair too early. In 2004, its managers decided to stockpile a decade’s worth of chemicals and components for instant film and to let the supply lines dry up. Then, went the thinking, it could cash out, selling off the real estate. Over the next few years, as demand slowly began to pick up — from the three groups mentioned above — Polaroid ran out of ingredients well ahead of schedule. There was talk of trying to get the machines rolling again, but the complex chemicals the film required, and its unique self-contained negative, which had been manufactured by Polaroid itself, were simply unavailable.
Or, rather, were unavailable if Polaroid wanted to maintain its familiar retail price of about $10 a pack, and keep up its legacy costs.
In 2009, a group of eccentric entrepreneurs bought Polaroid’s last film factory, in the Netherlands, and incorporated under the name The Impossible Project. Its mission was to restart production without changing the specifications of the film, so it would fit into old Polaroid cameras. Two and a half years after its launch, Impossible has produced several iterations. The first were extremely touchy and unreliable; subsequent batches have been markedly better, though Impossible’s tiny scale has made it difficult to match Polaroid’s level of consistency. Its latest product, introduced in September, is the first one that looks and behaves a lot like Polaroid film did.