ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Kodak’s moment has come and gone.
The glory days when Eastman Kodak Co. ruled the world of film photography lasted for more than a century. Then came a stunning reversal of fortune: cutthroat competition from Japanese firms in the 1980s and a seismic shift to the digital technology it pioneered but couldn’t capitalize on. Now comes a wistful worry that this icon of American business is edging toward extinction.
Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday, raising the specter that the 132-year-old trailblazer could become the most storied casualty of a digital age.
Already a shadow of its former self, Kodak will now reorganize in bankruptcy court as it seeks to boost its cash position and stay in business.
The Rochester, N.Y., company is pinning its hopes on peddling a trove of photo patents and morphing into a new-look powerhouse built around printers and ink. Even if it succeeds, it seems unlikely to ever again resemble what its red-on-yellow K logo long stood for - a signature brand synonymous in every corner of the planet with capturing, collecting, and sharing images.
“Kodak played a role in pretty much everyone’s life in the 20th century because it was the company we entrusted our most treasured possession to - our memories,’’ said Robert Burley, a photography professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Its yellow boxes of film, point-and-shoot Brownie and Instamatic cameras, and those hand-size prints that made it possible for countless millions to freeze-frame their world “were the products used to remember - and really define - what that entire century looked like,’’ Burley said.
“One of the interesting parts of this bankruptcy story is everyone’s saddened by it,’’ he said. “There’s a kind of emotional connection to Kodak for many people. You could find that name inside every American household and, in the last five years, it’s disappeared. At the very least, digital technology will transform Kodak from a very big company to a smaller one.’’
Kodak has notched just one profitable year since 2004.
At the end of a four-year digital makeover during which it dynamited aged factories, chopped and changed businesses, and eliminated tens of thousands more jobs, it closed 2007 on a high note with net income of $676 million.
It soon ran smack into the recession - and its momentum slipped into reverse.