Yesterday it was announced that Eastman Kodak would be phasing out digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital frames. Many media outlets are saying that they are eliminating all cameras but it appears that Kodak will still be making and selling disposable film cameras. Kodak refers to them as ‘OTUC’ for ‘one time use.’ Last I heard, the film is made in Rochester then sent to Mexico to be cut and inserted into the camera which is made in Mexico. The digital camera business was never very profitable for Kodak even though they developed a digital camera in 1975. There is too much competition in digital cameras and the profit margin was too small. Kodak may license their name to other camera manufacturers.
Kodak has been reducing the size of the company for many years. In 1993 they spun off Eastman Chemical into a separate company because they thought they didn’t have a need for the chemical business. In 1999 Kodak sold what remained of the copier line to Danka. In 2000 Kodak sold off the Elmgrove complex which at one time had made slide projectors and cameras. In 2004 the aerospace division that made satellite imaging systems was sold to ITT. Between 2004 to 2007 in order to save on taxes Kodak started destroying buildings in Kodak Park. They even imploded 4 sets of buildings in 2007. In 2007 the health division was sold to CareStream but Kodak still manufactures the x-ray and dental film that CareStream sells. Kodak is trying to sell off unused properties but is having difficulties finding any buyers. Even about half of the Kodak Office complex could become part of Monroe Community College if everything goes as planned.
The demise of the digital camera business is sad for all former Kodak employees, including myself. The once largest employer in Rochester is just a shadow of its former self. In the early 1980s there were over 60,000 Kodak employees in Rochester and now there are somewhere around 6200 (reported numbers vary). Kodak used to be family to it’s employees. They provided a great insurance plan but also had doctors and nurses at company medical centers. They also had many recreation organizations including a stamp club, genealogy club, camera club and a gun club that had an indoor range in one of the Kodak buildings. Kodak sports leagues were extensive. They had basketball, bowling, tennis and golf leagues but the biggest was the softball league. There were softball leagues within the company and also a team which played other companies. All those are now gone.
Kodak has paid an annual bonus most years since 1899. At one time the whole Rochester area looked forward to Kodak bonus day. Companies selling home appliances and autos would have special sales to attract Kodak employees. The bonus would even be a good down-payment on a new house. The bonus has now been reduced to almost nothing.
Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Jan. 19th. We are now seeing the direction that Kodak will take in the future. Photo kiosks are one thing that Kodak is having great success with. Also strong is the commercial ink-jet business. Kodak Gallery (www.kodakgallery.com) is an online place to print photos and share photo. Kodak says that they are keeping the website even though there are rumors that it is for sale. Kodak still makes commercial films. Even though that market is decreasing, the profit margin is so great that it is worthwhile keeping. Everyone in Rochester hopes that Kodak can survive and find a direction for the future.