Let’s admit that a long time ago, Kodak was a hugely important company. In fact, it was a Hugely Important Company, on a level rivaled in influence by perhaps only Ford and General Electric in the mainstream.
Everyone takes pictures, and Kodak catered to the masses, iterating repeatedly based on consumer needs.
But, eventually, the company made a bad bet, choosing to protect film at a time when everything was going digital (even though its engineers helped invent some of the basic technology), and that bad bet cost it that lofty position as an important company. The company had to sell many of the ideas invented under its own roof to stay alive—fundamental photographic technologies wasted.
Instead, we’re starting to see a new, darker side of Kodak—as an attention monger jumping onto a buzzy trend with a gimmicky approach.
This week, Rochester, New York’s one-time greatest company announced in the midst of CES that it was jumping into cryptocurrency with both feet: First, the company announced that it was creating its own cryptocurrency, with the goal of using blockchain technology as a way to track the spread of copyrighted photos online—a majorly difficult task that the company appears ready to tackle, complete with an initial coin offering. As crazy as it sounds, it actually sounds like a good technology that could be a hit if it actually ships.
“For many in the tech industry, ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who’ve long struggled to assert control over their work and how it’s used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem,” explained the company’s CEO, Jeff Clarke. “Kodak has always sought to democratize photography and make licensing fair to artists. These technologies give the photography community an innovative and easy way to do just that.”
But the other thing the company showed off, well … not so much. It was a crypto miner, and an annoying one at that, one that pledges to pay for itself over a two year period. Some have called it a scam, but I’d prefer to go another angle with this: It’s a disappointment.
It’s disappointing that the only way we are even willing to mention the name Kodak in 2018 is either in reference to cryptocurrency or a rapper that has nothing to do with the brand. It’s unfortunate that we let companies that are shells of their former selves survive even after they lose momentum—after most of the jobs have been lost but there’s still a chance of convincing investors to care again.
Notably, one of Kodak’s longtime competitors, Polaroid (which also failed to grasp the digital camera trend), has not been above stunts to keep its brand alive—just a year ago, at last year’s CES, that company announced it was going to debut a line of drones.
Our legacy companies, which carry a sense of nostalgia to them, are not immune to disruption. General Electric, another Hugely Important Company that is starting to lose its luster, is currently dealing with a major decline in its fortunes. Sears, recently called “The Amazon of the 20th Century” by the Wall Street Journal, is in a similar place.
But still, none of these companies, even in their struggles, have blatantly tried to trend-jack to the degree Kodak just did. It’s heartbreaking, because they should be above it … but based on their stock price, they’re clearly not.
If you see a legacy company release its own bitcoin miners, you might as well shut the doors and hand the money back to the investors. They’re done. It’s like they don’t exist.