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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Columns

Bankruptcy of Kodak a sad moment


George Eastman leased the third floor of a Rochester office building in 1880. Inspired by a photographic outburst in his early twenties, he sought to produce cheap cameras for temporary use, with intentions of selling the items at a fraction of their production costs.

It was a sure method for big money. Had the idea not been born from himself, Eastman may have realized early on that his production effort would allude to just how much he’d profit in the long run.

He may have determined that innovation wasn’t an option, and complacency was a cardinal, all-encompassing accident.

But he didn’t. Eastman’s philosophy was simple: cheap products, plus mass production, divided by unsettled territory equals profit.

The only unspoken variable was the name of his establishment, but this was solved with ease. “Kodak” stuck.

Not once had there been such a thing. There were no Kodak trees. None of the disciples were named Kodak. You could neither smoke, nor climb nor drive a Kodak.

This, Eastman believed, was the key to a “razor-blade strategy.” And it was. Kodak swallowed the country whole, handling 85 percent of American camera sales until the late ‘70s. In its squalor, the company even snuck itself into our lexicon. Weddings, bar mitzvahs and boar hunts all became Kodak moments, with the biggest one of all going to the company itself.

For over half a decade, Kodak rode the wave of split-second consciousness all the way to the bank.

Fujifilm reared it’s fangs in the early 1930s, but a vegetable-sounding company in the Pacific Ocean was a waste of breath. If anything, their sales would probably increase at the audacity of foreigners attempting to make waves.

So when the 1984 Summer Olympics asked for the official film sponsorship of the Eastman Kodak Company, they were kindly referred to their off-shore vegetable relatives. Kodak, it seemed, already had its foothold in the country’s market.

The notion lasted for about 4,015 days. In 1995, a petition was authored with the US Commerce Department against Fuji’s unfair marketing practice: that Kodak could be outsold by a Japanese company, even in Japan, was blasphemous.

But even then, at the face of their biggest opposition since their inception, nobody hit the panic button. No one could have argued.

And no one would have known that on February 9, 2012, Kodak would fall victim to a definitive loss at their very own game.

There should be a moral to this story, but there isn’t. The Kodak equation was undertaken by many entrepreneurs at the time, and the results varied wildly.

Some establishments caved in immediately, while others, in lieu of McDonalds, continue to thrive. Eastman’s odyssey shouldn’t be evaluated from its conclusion, but from every side-step that brought it about.

Kodak isn’t the first company to shoot for glory and end in bankruptcy, and they won’t be the last.

Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]

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