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No Longer a Kodak Moment

Remember when people used to refer to a “Kodak moment”? That phrase, like the company it refers to, might be about to go the way of the dodo. According to the NYT, Kodak is having trouble even pretending that it has a future: “a lawyer representing Kodak creditors questioned management’s plan to borrow $950 million from Citigroup to stay afloat during the bankruptcy process, noting that the company had burned through $2 billion in the last two years trying to reinvent itself.”

Kodak is one of those Rustbelt-based corporate citizens like Chrystler and GMC: The type that is socially-responsible, unionized, blue and inching toward the graveyard. Kodak’s failure to adapt to the times by producing digital cameras did not happen because they provide healthcare benefits for almost 40,000 retirees, but the financial burden of a large group of retirees on a shrinking company is preventing the company from restructuring and taking out loans on credit. As the article reports, the company spent $240 million on retiree healthcare benefits last year.

Kodak’s story might be a microcosm of upstate-New York: it isn’t too big to fail, but it might be too old to reform. Change is needed, but it might not be coming, or at least not fast enough.

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  • Gary L

    I came across the Kodak story the other day when I checked out mystery novelist David Hewson’s blog for the first time. Hewson’s take is very interesting. He states that all the way back in 1995 (after accepting an invitation to a Kodak-sponsored event in San Francisco) he could see the future belonged to digital photography, but Kodak spurned its opportunity to take a pioneering role in this field. Though I would have, based on his novels, guessed him to be a few degrees to the left of center, he sounds very like a celebrant of capitalism’s vaunted “creative destructiveness” here.

    And if it is permissible to go “off-topic” in the Via Meadia comments, I’d like a make a plug for Hewson’s “Nic Costa” detective series, which is set in present-day Rome. Hewson effectively uses Roman history & landmarks from the Empire through the Renaissance as the basis of his early 21st-Century narratives. The protagonist is intentionally bland, but the supporting cast is vivid. And there are very few writers in any genre who can so brilliantly bring a city to printed-page life (e.g., a description of a snowstorm in Campo di Fiori in “The Sacred Cut” is the sort of prose that makes one weep with joy).

  • Alex Scipio

    Kodak thought they were in the film business when they were in the image business. Probably impossible to find a greater waste of IP by a completely navel-gazing Board. Oh, well.

    Look how good American business is… Imagine how good we’d be if we were competently managed.

  • Jim.

    Didn’t The Economist have an article covering this? Kodak thought it was in the chemical business, so it tried to go Pharma (which didn’t work).

    Apparently Fujifilm is doing just fine these days.

  • Brendan Doran

    Upstate NY can save itself by fracking. It’s pols are well paid by urban Trustifarians to stay pastoral, complete with poor peasants. So it’s missing out on a global energy boom.
    If the youth from there* weren’t a diaspora, there’d be considerably more agitation for fracking. As the Empire has succeeded in driving them all away, it rots.

    *part of said diaspora.

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