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The announcement has prompted some commentators to claim that Kodak's near-demise has been brought on by:
- a failure to innovate, or
- a failure to anticipate the shift from analogue to digital cameras, or
- a failure to compete with the rise of cameras in mobile phones.
Actually, none of these claims are true. Where Kodak did fail is in not understanding what people take photographs for, and what they do with photos once they have taken them.
Before looking at what people actually take photos for, and how Kodak got it wrong, let's look at the two reasons others have given for Kodak's failure: that the camera in phones has replaced the stand-alone camera, and that Kodak failed to innovate.
‘The dedicated camera is dead'
In an article for ReadWriteWeb tech columnist John Paul Titlow claims Kodak is failing because of the dominance of camera phones.
Unfortunately this graph doesn't tell the whole story.
I downloaded Flickr data and analysed the number of items uploaded to Flickr over the past year for several popular camera and phone manufacturers.
The charts below show that images taken with camera phones only represent approximately 3% of the total. The actual number may be a little higher because Flickr can't always identify the type of camera that has taken the image, but it's still a very small percentage of the overall whole.
The other thing to note is that Kodak cameras are only responsible for 6% of images overall and that Canon and Nikon are by far the most dominant players in this market.
(Admittedly, the number of images on Flickr is about 5% of that on Facebook. It would be interesting to repeat this analysis using Facebook data, but there is no reason to believe the results would be substantially different.)
‘Kodak failed to innovate'
Kodak's financial problems aren't necessarily due to a failure to innovate, or a failure to recognise the shift from print to digital photography. In fact, Kodak has been involved in the rise of digital cameras at virtually every step:
- Kodak electrical engineer, Steve Sasson, actually "invented" the digital camera in 1975.
- Kodak partnered with Nikon in 1991 to produce a professional-grade digital camera with a whopping 1.3 Megapixels (you can buy 12 Megapixel cameras for under $100 now).
- In 1995, Kodak released their first "point-and-shoot" camera.
One of Kodak's chief assets is its collection of patents, which company executives have been trying to sell. Kodak has also been pursuing other companies - including phone manufacturers Apple and Research in Motion - for infringing their patents on the ability to preview photos on their phones.
Why people take photographs and what they do with them
Where Kodak got it wrong was its perception that people were still taking photographs which they would then print.
But this is increasingly no longer the case.
From dedicated photo print shops to automated kiosks, Kodak persisted with this notion for longer than it should have. A large part of the company's more recent business strategy has focused on printers and ink. But here, as with their digital cameras, Kodak only holds a small market share - roughly 2.6%.
In the days of film cameras, personal photography was principally about holding on to personal memories, with photos usually ending up in a shoebox.
But recent research by anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists suggests personal photography has moved from being mostly a tool for remembering, to one of emphasising communication and our individual identities.
As with most change, researchers have noted this switch most prominently in teenagers and young adults.
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