the candler blog

Kodak's Slide and Fujifilm's Rise

Film, Filmmaking, Link

Terribly sad piece about how far Kodak has fallen.

While Kodak suffers, its long-time rival Fujifilm is doing rather well. The two firms have much in common. Both enjoyed lucrative near-monopolies of their home markets: Kodak selling film in America, Fujifilm in Japan. A good deal of the trade friction during the 1990s between America and Japan sprang from Kodak’s desire to keep cheap Japanese film off its patch.

Both firms saw their traditional business rendered obsolete. But whereas Kodak has so far failed to adapt adequately, Fujifilm has transformed itself into a solidly profitable business, with a market capitalisation, even after a rough year, of some $12.6 billion to Kodak’s $220m. Why did these two firms fare so differently?

The article talks about Kodak’s complacency as a market leader. In hindsight it seems like their cavalier attitude was beyond irresponsible, but the belief that they were the number one producer of film products ran deep for generations.

When I was in college, not so long ago, and the time came to choose a film stock for my thesis project, none of the professors I spoke with could offer any guidance on Fujifilm’s motion picture product line. In fact, some even fed me misinformation regarding whether or not it could be processed in local laboratories. They did this not out of malice, but because they honestly didn’t know otherwise. This is what happens when you have a near monopoly: your story gets to be gospel.

I contacted Fujifilm myself and found them to be warm and welcoming. I had people there I could talk to on the phone for a small order while Kodak would give me a terse message after I’d punch numbers on their automated phone menus. Their line of film stocks even felt more innovative and cutting edge than Kodak’s. 500 ASA Daylight? Why would such a thing exist and, better, how could I make use of it creatively?

In the end Fujifilm cut me a deal on film stock that was far better than what Kodak could was offering. I shot two films with it and absolutely loved the stuff. And guess what? My friends loved it and they started ordering from Fujifilm as well.

Kodak never stopped acting like a behemoth even when it was clear the tables were turning. Much of their story is woven into the American moviemaking narrative, and it is disheartening to watch them tumble out of relevance. The truth is they had every opportunity to not only turn things around but completely own the markets they already had experience in. They basically invented digital photography and even brought the first digital camera that mattered to market. Yet they still lost their way. Hubris, I guess, got the better of them.

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