In a turn of news that I really wish I didn’t have to report, Kodak’s stock isn’t doing so well at the moment. Last year around this time it was pretty low; and then it started to climb up again and remained fairly high. Around the holidays it stayed strong and then back in January when they announced Ektachrome around CES it became strong again. But since then, apparently things haven’t been going so well.
Around March 7th they issued a poor earnings report which perhaps made things really scary for them. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company earned $16 Million; which really isn’t a lot at all. Despite all this, they’re also looking to keep their Inkjet business despite initially considering selling it off.
You can read more about the report over at Tim Layton’s blog. With all this said, I’m going to make some very obvious statements that don’t seem obvious, but after seven years as a business owner I can personally attest to this. Every first quarter of a year is VERY DIFFICULT for everyone in the photo industry. Budgets run out, no one really buys anything after the holiday season partially due to everyone being afraid of tax day, and it’s incredibly tough to really push sales overall at least until later in April. It’s always made me wonder why CES is in January but makes complete sense why Photokina is in September. So it’s very possible that Kodak just had a tough quarter; people may be waiting until the summer here in America to get back out there and shoot film again.
But let’s consider this a bit closer now: analog film is enjoying a resurgence of sorts. Lomography, CineStill, Ilford, Impossible Project, and Fujifilm Instax are all very healthy. But most of those companies are much smaller, leaner and market in a completely different way altogether. Plus, no one (as in the big companies) has really come out with new 35mm film cameras in a while except for Leica. So most of those sales instead get done through the retailers–who end up doing well because of it. Indeed, when I was at B&H Photo, the Used Dept was the most profitable one.
However, analog film is still a niche. People love to shoot Instax and many users don’t even consider that to be film at all. Digital photography is still the mainstay though I do genuinely believe that true photography will stay alive with film.
I don’t think Kodak (overall, both Eastman and Alaris) is going to fall any time soon. Even if it did, Tri-X, Portra and Ektar would be easily bought out and acquired by some other brand out there. But I think that we, as a photography community, need to carefully consider just how and why analog photography is coming back. Also, according to sales statistics for the big companies, it seems to be down or at least consistent. Now, if photographers are going to bring back some sort of really huge analog film photography renaissance, how are we actually going to do it?
I think the answer is with us: we have to keep buying more film and we have to keep promoting it. By we, I mean the community. We need to inspire others to actually go out there and shoot film too.
Editor’s Note: I’ve had a few emails and comments requesting clarification on this article. From my understanding and a few conversations from insiders, Eastman makes some of the film in addition to all of the digital photography products and the new Kodak Ektra. Alaris is a privately held branding company that also happens to manufacture SOME of the other films but not all of the film. Ektachrome, also to my understanding, is closely tied to the Super 8 camera project. To that end, my interpretation of these conversations is that they (Eastman Kodak) are the ones making Ektachrome. It would also explain the massive supply issue with Kodak Portra 800 at the moment that you find folks on Reddit and Facebook Groups talking about. Lastly, both companies need to work with one another to be a larger whole.