The Long, Slow Lingering Death Of Eastman Kodak

On a day when Eastman Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors, this seems like a poignant (if rather obvious) song:

Like Paul Simon, ‘I got a Nikon camera.’ But it doesn’t shoot Kodachrome. It’s digital.

I used to have a 35 mm Canon camera. Sometimes I shot Kodachrome, especially when I visited the Holy Land in 1989. I got through twenty-nine rolls of Kodachrome 25. The slow ISO was fine in the bright heat, and its pale to neutral colour bias was right for a dusty land. Back in the UK, I used to prefer the bold, green colours of Fuji Velvia, though.

But not any more. It’s SD cards and Adobe Photoshop Elements for me now.

Kodak was slow to adapt to the culture. It was there at the invention of digital photography, but they refused to bring out what would have been the first digital camera, for fear of damaging their income from roll film. Rather like the church not wanting to offend longstanding worshippers by finding new ways of reaching out to the unchurched, Kodak held back – and is now withering on the vine. The parallels are disturbing.

Today’s news reminds me of a story I read in the newsletter of the (ironically now defunct) organisation MARC in December 1990. On page 3 of that issue, Bryant Myers told this story:

There is a story of a company that manufactured drill bits for over forty years. It had been very successful, but the industry was maturing and profit margins were getting thin.

The son of the founder attended his first senior staff meeting after his father died.

“What business are we in?” he asked the older men, who had served alongside his father for many years.

“We make drill bits!” came the exasperated answer. “Our customers need drill bits.”

“No. Our customers need holes,” the young man quietly replied. Today the company is again successful. In addition to drill bits, it manufactures lasers that make very precise holes.

Kodak’s business was not film but images. We might not want to talk about the church’s business, because economic and consumerist metaphors can be dangerous for us. But we do need to ensure that we are concentrating on our core Gospel calling in a way that can speak to people today, and that almost certainly won’t be in the way it spoke to some of our senior remaining generations.

One comment

  1. My husband bought me a new camera for Christmas – an Olympus. So I’m gettting used to new technology! Even if the family have to speak slowly to explain it to me. 🙂


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