All excellent points!The small Kodak digicams were actually quite excellent little cameras. But they looked like minivans and attracted customers who drove minivans. They didn't have the style of a Sony or the hipness of a Leica/Panasonic. It's all moot--I can make better images with my iPhone than my wife can with her half-decade-old Canon Elph digicam. I feel like a traditionalist because I actually use my Leica D-Lux instead of my iPhone most of the time.
Kodak still makes the best big sensors. Their sensors are in the Leica S2, the Pentax 645D, and at least one of the Hasselblad backs that I know of (and I don't really make it my business to know--those are expensive beyond even my curiosity). I think their problem is at the retail end of digital photography. They are a strong player in the OEM market. Even their own retail-branded MFDB did not seem to establish any dominance or market buzz, but maybe it did and I just missed it.
Rant time, of course with no more knowledge than any other person who can read a financial report. We have insiders here who perhaps know the real stories.
Running from the retail equipment market seems to be nothing new for Kodak. They've been doing that for decades. They stopped making professional lenses 50 years ago, leaving the market (for a time) to Wollensak, Ilex and the more expensive (but at that time not necessarily better) German manufacturers. They ran from that even before the Japanese were players. They never produced a quality consumer SLR to compete against cameras like the Pentax Spotmatic, and instead bet their profits on ultra-volume consumer cameras like the Instamatic. They gleefully participated in a race to the bottom, but found out that the bottom is a lot farther down there than they imagined (cameras like the Instamatic became literally disposable what, 20 years ago?). While the Japanese were owning the quality consumer market with very good little fixed-lens rangefinder cameras and decent SLRs, Kodak was nowhere to be seen, except inside the yellow box.
Fuji kicked their butts in the film arena. To me, this seems like the Great Battle between color and tone. Fuji went to saturation and Kodak stayed with tone. Saturation won in the consumer market, and Kodak once again had to race to the bottom to be the cheaper alternative on drug-store shelves. I don't know if Kodak has a stake in Chinese film production, but if they didn't, that wouldn't have helped in that race to the bottom, if the bottom is where they really wanted to be.
The inevitability of digital replacing consumer and small formats has been pretty apparent for many years now. As soon as they got a whiff of that, they needed to be investing R&D into lower production business models for film. I think they did do that to some extent, from what I've read, but clearly not enough.
When they diversified into related businesses, they did so to build a vertical production capability, and enjoyed some success with that approach for many decades. But then they sold off those supporting businesses even when they were separately profitable, and now don't have them to help fill in gaps the balance sheet while they react to the big changes in the photography market. The example I'm familiar with is the Eastman Chemical Company, founded by Kodak in 1918 and spun off in 1994. They made many, many products outside the photography industry, and they are a solid if not stellar player in the plastics industry. They are probably happy not to be under the Kodak yoke, however.
A big part of the problem is the same problem faced by most traditional American corporations. They have forgotten that the CEO really needs to know the business the company is in, even at a technical level, and certainly at a visionary level. For a long time, Kodak has been "led" by business-school graduates and corporate committees who are part of a managerial class first instituted by the Harvard Business School. Everybody is mourning the passing of Steve Jobs, and whatever else he did, he demonstrated the importance of a CEO who knows what his business is at both a technical and visionary level.
Rick "spouting another rant that will earn a 'Jeezum!' from Petronio" Denney