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No tears for Kodak (x2)

Well-known former Sydney minilab operator Rob Olson, and Paul Lelliott, Alice Springs Camera House, remind us of the days when Kodak was cock of the walk, the bull in the photo shop. They both argue that the catalyst for the decline of the industry’s once-dominant power came when, in a relentless pursuit of market share, it started to treat its customers as mere pawns in a chess game…

Rob Olson, Somerton, NSW:

As a 10-year-old and a keen photographer, I was assured by Kodak promotions that, ‘Taking The Pictures is Only Half The Fun’. My forays into the darkroom meant that I was totally hooked on all aspects of photography, and it later became my career of choice and my abiding passion.

My first job after leaving school was working in the studio of Laurence LeGuay and John Nisbett. The studio used nothing but Kodak products and the account was serviced weekly by Barry Bidwell, then a young Kodak rep. The names of ‘Dektol’ and ‘D76’ resonate with me today. Kodak reigned supreme and its products were the zenith of photographic technology at the time.

One day a rep came into the studio to give me a sample box of Ilford paper. I tested the paper and found the whites were whiter and the blacks were blacker. Not only that – the price, was considerably cheaper than the Kodak alternative…The rot for Kodak had started.

Many years later I started a minilab in the Queen Victoria Building (The Camera Spot) and I chose to use Konica products and machinery. Offering the public an eclectic choice, I stocked all brands of film: I sold a lot of Kodak film compared to all the others until such stage I was informed by a good customer that they could buy Kodak film from Woolworths across the road in george Street at a great discount.

My entreaties to Kodak fell on deaf ears and I decided that I would no longer sell Kodak film. A Kodak rep told me I was mad not to stock Kodak film. The rot for Kodak had broadened.

Some years later I went to India to meet up with some friends, I took with me my trusty Konica Hexar and plenty of film. My good friend Richard Farleigh was sporting the latest one-megapixel digital camera. After more than a cursory examination I declared that the the quality was sh*t and it would never threaten the dominance of film. Richard, a most perspicacious individual, had looked into the future and said, ‘Rob digital cameras will get better and better and cheaper and cheaper: they will put you out of business!’ In less than six years Richard was proved to be right.

Meanwhile back in Sydney, Woolworths Town Hall (corner Park and George Sts)  had opened a Kodak lab on the ground floor of their flagship store. The price of the processing was predatory and some nearby labs closed as a result. A letter to Senator Ron Boswell regarding Woolworh’s predatory pricing was read into Hansard and over a decade later legislation was enacted regarding predatory pricing. The head of Woolworth’s at the time, Roger Corbett, steadfastly maintained (that) ‘It is not our intention to put customers out of business’. I reminded Mr Corbett through the pages of the SMH that ‘intent’ is a state of mind and that he was aiding and abetting an American multinational to the detriment of fellow Australians.

Kodak over the years were innovative and were renowned for their ground-breaking technology, but they lost sight of the people that mattered the most, their own clients and photographic allies. Kodak’s demise will not be mourned by many in the Industry, and it could be said that in the years to come they will be regarded as the authors of their own misfortunes.  The rot was complete.

(Welcome back, Rob! Ed)

Paul Lelliott, Alice Springs Camera House:

All competition is not always fair and necessary.

In my dealings with Kodak it was like dealing with the CIA, and questions were often met with, ‘I cannot comment on that. It’s not my department.’ – But it was the same Kodak product we were talking about!

Consider the scenario: An established retailer agrees to fully commit to Kodak and heavily  invests in the ‘Brand’. Across the road, Kodak then sets up in opposition with its own store and also promotes the ‘Brand’, while retailing at significantly lower margins.

Further down the road Kodak, through its pharmacy channel, sets up minilab services in the local chemist. Again promoting lower margins. Then through its mass merchant channel you have the supermarket chains discounting the same quality Kodak brand at less than the original retailers’ cost price.

All of this within the same suburb!

I will not cry for Kodak, and as I recently asked [ex-Kodak exec] Tony Quigley, where are all those overpaid visionaries who invented 126,disc and APS, and then missed the digital opportunities?

That was an era when Sony , Panasonic and Samsung were not into imaging.
Not to mention Lexar, Sandisk and Silicon Power, who were just startup companies.

Compare the Kodak demise with the Fuji success.


  1. Tony Tony February 9, 2012

    I must admit I had a good laugh reading through the two accounts above. Kodak did dominate the market and had fingers in every pie. They were enormously successful and supported their loyal dealers with much support and a marketing program which was the envy of the photographic world.
    Unfortunately neither of the stores of the two writers survived into the present day and you would have to add Ilford and Konica to that list!

    I think it is time to move on. Kodak is still a great brand, its still there, ignore it at your peril!

  2. yvonne yvonne February 10, 2012

    Reading about Kodak in this article by Rob reminded me of something GREEN in the present day.

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