TIL That the camera company Kodak created the world's first digital camera in 1975 but chose not to produce any digital products for FIFTEEN YEARS, because they were worried that it might eat into their sales of analog film. By that point the market was crowded and they never recovered.
I used to work for a major PR firm in the early Aughts and Kodak was a client. We were working on a "blog" showing behind-the-scenes pics of a (then) popular TV show. This was meant to showcase the new Kodak EasyShare cameras. The problem was, they were sending me actual prints that I then had to scan in and manually compress. So, while sitting in a meeting with the client I suggested they just send me digital versions and save the extra steps.
I was promptly walked out of the room and scolded by my boss and director for "bringing up digital with Kodak." Needless to say, I was never invited to another client meeting with Kodak.
And the blog we were working on for them? It was behind-the-scenes of "Smallville": The Allison Mack Blog. r/agedlikemilk
I was in grad school in the early 80s and I remember being shown a white paper from Kodak claiming that digital would NEVER achieve the image definition of film.
Even then I thought, "that's a high mountain of bullshit they've piled up there. I wonder how long it will take for them to realize that they made a mistake."
High tech is littered with companies that had everything that they needed to be the dominant force in tech today. It takes real power to move an entrenched corporate strategy.
Example: OCLC - Online Computer Library Center - SHOULD have been Google long before Google existed. It would have been a simple move, they had the infrastructure AND a massive knowledge base (in some ways it is still superior to what Google posses in some areas), but they just stuck right along being the card catalog. What a shame.
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Kodak was. They were one of the world's largest camera manufacturers, by volume, but it was a tiny percentage of their revenue. Kodak was a chemical engineering company.
Film is an incredible chemical product, it is sensitive to the amount of light that shines through a small aperture in a thousandth of a second. That sensitivity is calibrated to a fraction of a percent, year after year. Traditional photo paper is essentially the same thing, produced in vast volume. Kodak also produced millions of pounds of chemical to develop those products. They sold cameras, they had world leading experts in photography and optics, but the purpose was to sell film and chemistry.
Fujifilm survived and grew, their main business now is cosmetics. They make high quality digital cameras and imaging products, but their main business is still chemical engineering and color science.
The answer in 1975 was not for Kodak to compete with itself, it was to diversify. They should have made pharmaceuticals or diabetes test strips or something. They got government funding this summer to make pharmaceuticals, but it was basically a scam. The institutional expertise in chemical engineering left fifteen years ago.
Reddit as a whole seems to have no idea how much of a pain in the ass displaying digital photos was until the 90s. The fuck were you gonna do with a digital camera linked up to a Commodore 64?
Yeah I hate when people bring this up because it completely misses the point. Have people ever seen the "digital camera" they invented in 1975? here's a description,
"The 8-pound camera that Sasson put together shot 0.01-megapixel black-and-white photos and recorded them to cassette tapes. Each photo took 23 seconds to create, and the only way to view the photos was to read the data from the tape and display it onto a standard television screen."
It was a proof of concept. The tech wasn't going to be there until the mid-nineties either way because Kodak wasn't inventing new chips/storage they had to wait for the companies in those industries to develop new tech.
Additionally, camera sales were basically nothing to Kodak. At some points they even gave away cameras for free just to get people into photography to buy film. Even if they came out with 1990s quality digital camera by 1980 and started selling it on mass their revenue would have absolutely tanked because they'd have killed their film industry.
But even if they did go full force into digital camera when the tech was mature (which they did), those sales starting going up in 2000 and tanked by 2011. Congrats, 10 years of camera sales which were a tiny fraction of their business before it dried up due to cellphone cameras.
There was nothing Kodak could have done to save themselves any more than CD pressers, newspapers, or malls.
My first digital camera took photos at 640×480 resolution and I think the internal memory could store 8 photos. So I had a bunch of pictures of mundane goings-on at home. And they only looked good in sunlight.
Even though it used a USB connection it still took several minutes load up the software, connect to the camera and download those 8 photos. Serial connections on earlier cameras were way slower.
And now that I'm thinking back, my favorite digital camera was my Minolta Dimage Xi I got back in high school. Really cool compact design and the photos (3.2 megapixel) still look pretty good. Video was laughably bad though, 320 x 240 at 15fps.
Meh, it's easy to be the "Monday morning quarterback". In the 1970's, 80's and even through much of the 90's any digital image that was of comparable quality to film would have been a major pain in the ass to transfer and display. You could pioneer it all you wanted but a 5mb hard drive it was about $5,000 in today's money. Even if they somehow pushed the envelope to make amazing digital cameras there was no practical way for the average person to do much with them. Film was cheap and you could drop it off almost anywhere. My mom would bring a roll in to the grocery store and pick up the photos on the way out.
Also, doing the math, but how was the digital photography market overcrowded in 1990 (1975 + 15 years)? In 1990 digital photography was still a niche product. Even today, with cell phones getting really good at taking photos and being much easier to add to social media, your average person uses an actual camera much, much less. The mass-market camera industry, even digital, is a fraction of what it was in Kodak's height.
Failing to get into the smartphone camera hardware business was a much more costly miss than digital cameras in the 1990's. In my opinion a much more obvious miss too, as in the 70's and even 80's the majority of people wouldn't have predicted the digital boom of the 90's. By the 90's with social media and hardware improving, it seems more obvious that a camera you always have with you and that can easily send photos to friends instantly for free would be the future.
Kodak had top market share in digital point and shoot cameras at that time.
When cellphones had decent enough cameras, the market for point and shoot cameras died over night.
Kodak then tried to live off of patents and charged cellphone makers, but Apple told Kodak to piss off. Lawsuits happened, Apple won and then everyone stopped paying Kodak, and that was the final nail.
Digital did not kill Kodak. The smartphone killed Kodak.