After 131 years, it appears that Eastman Kodak will be declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy before the end of the month, according to the Wall Street Journal. It is currently seeking to sell off some of its 10,000 patents in order to stave off the inevitable, but the company is burning through its remaining cash reserves and credit lines rapidly. The last time Kodak was profitable was 2007 when its stock traded at $30 a share. On Friday, its last trade was at $0.37 a share. It’s in the process of being de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange, and Moody’s has downgraded the company’s credit to junk status.
By the mid-1990s the company had a virtual monopoly on photographic film that was enormously profitable and may be have been part of the cause of its failure to adapt to changes in the marketplace and in consumers’ tastes. Ironically, its success in developing the first digital camera in 1975 was heralded by its developer, Steve Sasson, as an invention that could “substantially impact the way pictures will be taken in the future.” There was no way he could have known then just how close to the mark he was, or the negative impact such an invention would have on his own company. He called it “film-less photography” which took a “year of piecing together a bunch of new technology that ran off 16 nickel-cadmium batteries, an unstable imaging array, and some parts stolen from a digital voltmeter.” It took 23 seconds to record an image to a cassette tape which was then placed in a reader that displayed it on a black-and-white TV set.
But the company’s highly profitable dependency upon its film business kept it from seeing the coming change, and it