Kodak's Moment Fades Away Former Photography Trailblazer Files for Chapter 11

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Kodak's Moment Fades Away Former Photography Trailblazer Files for Chapter 11


Byline: Ben Dobbin Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. The glory days, when Eastman Kodak Co. ruled the world of film photography, lasted for over a century. Then came a stunning reversal of fortune: cutthroat competition from Japanese firms in the 1980s and a seismic shift to the digital technology it pioneered but couldn't capitalize on. Now comes a wistful worry that this American business icon is edging toward extinction.

Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday, raising the specter that the 132-year-old trailblazer could become the most storied casualty of a digital age.

Already a shadow of its former self, cash-poor Kodak will reorganize in bankruptcy court, as it seeks to boost its cash position and stay in business. The Rochester, N.Y.-based company hopes to peddle a trove of photo patents and morph into a new-look powerhouse built

around printers and ink. Even if it succeeds, it seems unlikely to ever resemble what its red-on-yellow K logo long stood for a brand synonymous in every corner of the planet with capturing, collecting and sharing images.

"Kodak played a role in pretty much everyone's life in the 20th century because it was the company we entrusted our most treasured possession to our memories," said Robert Burley, a photography professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Its yellow boxes of film, point-and-shoot Brownie and Instamatic cameras, and those hand-sized prints that made it possible for countless millions to freeze-frame their world "were the products used to remember and really define what that entire century looked like," Burley said.

"One of the interesting parts of this bankruptcy story is everyone's saddened by it," he continued. "There's a kind of emotional connection to Kodak for many people. You could find that name inside every American household and, in the last five years, it's disappeared."

Kodak has notched just one profitable year since 2004. At the end of a four-year digital makeover during which it dynamited aged factories, chopped and changed businesses and eliminated tens of thousands of jobs, it closed 2007 on a high note with net income of $676 million.

It soon ran smack into the recession and its momentum reversed.

Years of investor worries over whether Kodak might seek protection from its creditors intensified in September when it hired major restructuring law firm Jones Day as an adviser. Its stock, which topped $94 in 1997, slid below $1 a share for the first time and, by Jan. 6, hit a closing low of 37 cents.

The human toll reaches back to the 1980s, when Tokyo-based Fuji, an emerging archrival, began to eat into Kodak's fat profits with novel offerings like single-use film cameras. Beset by excessive caution and strategic stumbles, Kodak was finally forced to cut costs. …

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Kodak's Moment Fades Away Former Photography Trailblazer Files for Chapter 11
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