Kodak and Fujifilm: Digital Photography Era / by Algernon Parker

Digital Photography Era

The evolution of photography has drastically changed the operation of companies like Kodak and Fujifilm. The film days have been replace by the digital era. Over the past few years, it has become more evident that digital photography is hear to stay. According to Merriam-Webster, photography is the “method of recording permanent images by the action of light  projected by a lens in a camera onto a film or other light-sensitive material” (n.d.).

In the 1800s, wet glass plates were used to make a photograph. The plates were wet, they had to be exposed and developed immediately. George Eastman found this to be very inconvenient when he was photographing land that he wanted to purchase. According to the documentary The Wizard of Photography, Eastman actually paid a professional photographer to teach him how to use the camera that he bought to photograph the landscape (DeVinney). There had to be a better and easier way to do this, he thought. This is when he started to experiment with the development of his own gelatin dry plates. In 1879, Eastman invented an emulsion-coating machine that allow him to produce dry plates. This was the beginning of the film that we all are familiar with. The thought of simplifying the process of photography was an obsession. Eastman learn became very familiar with handling money from working at a bank as a teller. He quickly realized that he can sell the dry plates that he produced to other photographers. The glass plates that were used to produce images were replaced by the dry plate or paper coated with the chemicals that Eastman came up with. “By 1880, he had not only invented a dry plate formula, but had patented a machine for preparing large numbers of the plates” (Kodak). This was the first office or company that Eastman had started. Eastman also developed a paper roll holder that attached to the back of a camera. This holder was rejected by many professional photographers. So, he wanted to come up with a way to make photography accessible to everyone. He came up with a revolutionary innovation. A camera that almost anyone could use was his answer. This is when he decide on the Kodak. According to DeVinney’s documentary, Eastman made up the name Kodak because it was not associated with anything. This way, when people heard the name Kodak, it was associated with nothing but his camera. This camera was a success but it was expensive at the time. In 1893, The Eastman company was in danger. “Henry Reichenbach, the company's star chemist and emulsion maker, had left in disgrace, the entire country was experiencing a financial depression, and it was beginning to look as if the salad days of Kodak were over. Into this crisis stepped William G. Stuber of Louisville, Kentucky” (Lindsay, 2000). Stuber was a portrait photographer that Eastman met at a photographic convention. Stuber was hired to work in the emulsion department. He eventually solve the problem of bad emulsion that failed to produce pictures. This helped Kodak out of its crisis and the emulsion became a trade secret used for years to come. The Kodak camera set the standard for convenient and portable photography. Stuber became president of the company, when Eastman retired. "In the black-and-white film era, Kodak’s leadership came from its marketing and its relationships with retailers (for shelf space, and photo-finishing with Kodak paper). Some competitors had better products, but consumers liked Kodak’s offerings, and felt no need to pay for an enhanced product." Kodak sold cameras for a low price and built profit from developing the film.

Fujifilm

Tokyo based company, Fuji Photo Film Co., was founded in 1934 as maker of photographic material (Gavetti, Henderson, Giorgi). Fuji was a direct competitor of Kodak, but  not as well known. Fujifilm attracted consumers with lower cost of film development. Kodak was much bigger than Fujifilm and more well known. In the 1980s, both companies realized that photography was headed to a digital era. Both companies also continued to make a small profit from film development. In the early 2000s, film went from 60% of Fujifilm’s profit to basically zero. The film business was dying quickly (K.N.C.).

I think these companies has very different approaches to management. I feel that Kodak’s methods of business is what led to their bankruptcy. They were not as diverse as Fujifilm. Kodak has a long and very strong history in film development. They led the U.S. for many years. From the times of George Eastman, Kodak has always been a very arrogant company. They believed that their business model was the heart of the company. Selling cameras at a low cost and making the profit from developing film for consumers is what kept Kodak ahead of the competition for a very long time. Fujifilm put a lot of energy into other aspects of their company, such as kiosk technology. They were able to strike a deal with Wal-Mart to put their kiosks in their stores. “Fujifilm's success stems in part from a decision in 2000 to spend around $1.6 billion for an  additional 25% stake in FujiXerox, the firm's joint venture with Xerox, when the struggling American firm was in need of cash. This allowed Fujifilm to control the joint venture's strategy and to consolidate its hefty earnings. When film began its swift decline, the company had a cushion of earnings” (K.N.C.). Other avenues of Fujifilm’s business was what really saved their company. Kodak believed that much of their success relied on their brand. I think Kodak’s aggressive style of management that they have had for years is the difference in the two companies. Fujifilm is more likely to adapt to a changing market.

Kodak was successful for coming up with a new way of making photography accessible to the average consumer in the 1800s. They perfected dry plates and the emulsion that were used to make the film that we know of today. This brought the company extreme success. They were a top American brand and lived by that brand. Fujifilm was a small company in Japan that was successful at adapting to their environment. Fujifilm entered the U.S. market and took consumers by their lower prices. The prices were low but the quality was still there. Kodak actually invented the digital camera but failed to profit from it. Fujifilm had a plan for when film fell, but the fall of film came quicker than expected.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Kodak is trying to monetize their intellectual property they filed a patent infringement suit again Fujifilm (FITZGERALD & JARZEMSKY, 2012). Fujifilm had been accused of violating five Kodak patents. This law suit comes after Kodak had allegedly violated four of Fujifilm’s patents. I feel that Kodak is filing a suit in defense of the company’s complete demise. They have also sued Apple and HTC for violating patents governing the transmission of photos from smartphones and tablets. Ethically, I believe business is a cut throat world. Everyone is looking for a way to get the upper hand.

After really thinking about it, both Kodak and Fujifilm had a lot of social success. Kodak gave the average person a way to capture their memories that speak louder than words. Many years later, Fujifilm helped lower the cost of the average person capturing these images. When the digital age came into play, Fujifilm continued to provide quality.

I believe both companies could improve their decision making process by including the research and development departments in the process. They should have a voice in what is done within the company. Kodak depended highly on its brand to succeed. They failed to listen to in house innovators. Both companies should looked at examples of other successful companies to get inspiration for the future. I have seen digital photography companies like VSCO that emulate the look of film. Kodak and Fujifilm should take a lesson from these companies since they were the kings of film. I also think that paying more attention to alternative courses of action in decision making would benefit both companies.

Digital Photography Era

The digital photograph era is here to stay. I am a photographer and I started learning when digital had became the standard. There are still many photographers who refuse to embrace the digital era. Film is out date because of the advancement in technology. Digital is still based off the film days. There are many apps or software that help photographers copy the film look. The cameras that I currently use have photographic sensors that are the same size as 35mm film. I can appreciate the history of film, but I gladly accept the digital photography era.

References

DeVinney, J. (n.d.). The wizard of photography. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfhsM15nElM

FITZGERALD, D., & JARZEMSKY, M. (2012, January 13). Kodak sues fujifilm over patents. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204409004577159222919326542

K.N.C. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2012/01/how-fujifilm-survived

Kodak (n.d.). George eastman. Retrieved from http://www.kodak.com/ek/US/en/Our_Company/History_of_Kodak/George_Eastman.htm

Lindsay, D. (2000). The wizard of photography. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eastman/peopleevents/pande07.html

Merriam-Webster (n.d.). Photography. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/photography