26 January 2006
For generations of Americans photography meant Kodak. Since 1888, when the company coined the slogan “you press the button, we do the rest”, film, paper and chemicals have been the holy trinity keeping the company well-fed and sustaining its reputation as one of the most iconic brands of the 20th century.
So there is a reflexive sense of shock when Antonio Perez, its chief executive, asserts: “Soon, I’m not going to be answering questions about film because I won’t know. It will be too small for me to get involved.”
While Mr Perez’s comments may initially disconcert they are a recognition – overdue, say critics – thatwith the rapid rise of digital cameras in recent years, film’s death march has become a sprint. The changed landscape has forced Kodak into the most important restructuring and transformation of its history, aware that its survival depends on whether it can create a new business model for the digital age.
Kodak’s challenge is an all-too-familiar one in boardrooms across the western world. From music and newspapers to travel and advertising, industries are trying desperately to forge a clear vision for themselves in a digital age that is still opaque. Less than a week ago, Konica Minolta, which trails in third behind Fuji Photo in the film-making market, gave up the struggle, announcing that it was pulling out of its traditional camera and photo businesses to stem growing losses.