Eastman Kodak has sold out the iconic brand name yet again by signing a perpetual licence agreement with eyewear conglomerate, EssilorLuxottica.
This expands on an existing multi-year agreement between Kodak and EssilorLuxottica, an Italian-French multinational corporation formed in 2018 when Essilor merged with Luxottica resulting in a near-monopoly of the eyewear industry. The group’s portfolio of brands includes OPSM, Sunglass Hut, Ray-Ban, Oakley, Arnette, Burberry, Chanel, D&G, Armani, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Versace and many others.
Many of the conglomerate’s arrangements, such as with Kodak and luxury fashion houses, are brand licensing deals.
The deal with Kodak provides Luxottica exclusive rights to use the Kodak branding, which is apparently ‘trusted by tens of millions of consumers’, for eyewear products and services.
‘We are pleased to make this substantial and permanent addition to our brand portfolio and are looking forward to leveraging our innovation capabilities and distribution network to create new opportunities for the brand and our customers. Long term agreements like this one pave the way for our company’s growth for many years to come,’ said Paul du Saillant, Deputy CEO of EssilorLuxottica.
It’s a stretch to claim the Kodak brand maintains a high level of consumer trust. The post-Millennial generation isn’t likely familiar with Kodak; and the average person born before the turn of the century probably feels nostalgia with the iconic yellow and red logo. But trust probably doesn’t extend further than 35mm colour negative film and disposable cameras.
And folks clued into the Eastman Kodak’s recent history will fondly recall some initiatives and licensing arrangements that range from ordinary to outright awful.
Let’s take a trip back into the Inside Imaging archive for a few fun Kodak moments.
J(ust) K(idding) Imaging
One of the first Kodak brand licensing agreements goes back to 2013 when an unknown US start-up, JK Imaging, sealed a deal resulting in Kodak PIXPRO digital cameras.
It was all rather odd as JK Imaging appeared almost out of thin air, and within a few months secured the ‘multi year’ Kodak deal. By 2014 a series of unpopular niche cameras were released, such as a PixPro AZ (Astro Zoom) 521 with 52x zoom and a PixPro SP360 360-degree action camera.
Online sleuths in the Inside Imaging comment section and on DPReview found a link between JK imaging and General Imaging, a US-based digital camera manufacturer that went bankruptcy in 2015. The specifics of this link isn’t clear – JK Imaging hasn’t addressed the connection – but it’s definitely there.
Astonishingly, the JK Imaging Kodak licensing deal still appears active today, with the Astro Zoom range including nine cameras, three 360-degree cams, two action sport devices, five compact cameras, and a S-1 M43 mirrorless interchangeable. Has anyone ever tried one of these Kodak cameras, or spotted one in the wild? If so, please let us know in the comments.
Around 2016 there was a blood-thirsty frenzy of famished tech start-ups furiously attempting to ‘AirBnb’ various service industries, including photography. These ventures are generally regarded as disrupting and harming the industries they serve, as the pitch is to offer a funky little app that offers lower prices than existing businesses.
Lower prices means the contractor is paid less, particularly after the platform takes a cut, with the perk being that they don’t handle admin or marketing. This makes them attractive to part-timers looking for a side hustle.
In the case of KodakIt, a wholly-owned venture by Kodak Singapore, it was fixing a ‘fragmented, complicated market for photographers, businesses and consumers’.
Kodakit initially targetted consumers looking for wedding and portrait photography but soon shifted towards businesses seeking high volume photography – real estate, food photography, and head shots.
It’s a bit shocking that Kodak, a brand serving the working photographer for decades, weaponised amateurs and professionals against an established industry, which it didn’t hesitate to criticise. All for a quick buck.
KodakCoin, KashMiners, KodakOne: bring on the revolution
Two years after KodakIt, the ‘gig economy’ was well-and-truly established, and cryptocurrency suddenly slipped into the mainstream’s conscious. Brands feverishly attempted to include crypto vernacular, such as ‘secure on the blockchain’, into their marketing spin even if they didn’t understand what it all meant.
At the CES 2018 trade show, a couple of Kodak’s sleazy little deals were unveiled.
Paparazzi agency, Wenn Digital, announced the KodakOne platform which would operate using the KodakCoin cryptocurrency. This silly little venture cost Wenn just US$750K, a final attempt to regurgitate a previously-failed attempt at crypto.
The plan was to use the block chain to create a legally-binding self-executing contract for photographers to use. This was the precipice of ‘blockchain’ being heralded as the ‘new internet’, yet years later real-world uses remain few and far between. (Although some people have become awfully rich!)
Here’s how Wenn Media and Kodak pitched KodakOne:
‘We can get a photo, lock it into our blockchain, then we can sort of assign the IP [intellectual property] to the individual, then we can look through the entire internet and find where that photo is being used, and if it’s not being used correctly, then we can reach out to them with an automated system that says, “hey, you might not have known that you’re using this photo without a licence, why don’t you get a licence to that”, and then that money comes back and gets paid back to the photographers, and that whole transaction happens with that KodakCoin cryptocurrency,’ Wenn Media CMO Bruce Elliot told media at CES.
‘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,’ said Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke. ‘Kodak has always sought to democratise photography and make licensing fair to artists. These technologies give the photography community an innovative and easy way to do just that.’
What happened next was pure comedy.
Wenn Digital put out a call for investment, asking for US$10 million – although US$40 million would be preferred. The platform’s launch was then delayed due to ‘large interest’ from investors.
And a few months later KodakOne announced a dramatic change to the grand plan. The platform wouldn’t target photographers, but sports fans. Attendees at six hockey/basketball stadium could upload, register, and licence photos during matches via KodakOne. All transactions would be executed with KodakCoin.
They brought in F1 World Champion driver, Fernando Alonso, to push it. We’re not sure exactly why, or how.
‘We are honored that Fernando Alonso is working with WENN Digital and the KODAKOne platform to secure his global image rights,’ said Jan Denecke, CEO of WENN Digital. ‘Fernando is a world-renowned athlete, and his trust in our platform further validates what we stand for. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner to work with in rolling out our KODAKOne platform services.’
Anyway, nothing ever happened. Kodak was initially enthusiastic about KodakOne/Coin, but later removed any mention of both from its website. A huge waste of everyone’s time and money. (Unless you were one of the seven non-executive directors issued share options just prior to the announcement, which tripled the Eastman Kodak share price over a week)
And let’s not forget the KashMiner, a BitCoin miner manufactured by Spotlite, a company which has the rights to manufacture and market lightbulbs under the Kodak brand. But don’t be confused; Kodak’s magic money making machine ‘mines’ bitcoins – not KodakCoins.
This little beauty cost punters US$3400 for a two-year contract, about US$1000 more than the re-badged version it’s based off. But the KashMiner lessee didn’t even get temporary ownership of the magic box. Spotlite would pays for the housing, operation, and maintenance of the machine, which has to be regularly sprinkled with a very special fairy dust for which Kodak retains a patent. Many crypto experts called the KashMiner a ‘scam’, and the Miner and KodakCoin were dubbed the ‘worst ideas’ of CES 2018.
Six months later, in July 2018, the US Securities and Exchange Commission, put an end to the scheme. And Eastman Kodak distanced itself from the scam, stating ‘the KashMiner is not a Kodak brand licensed product. Units were not installed at our headquarters’.
At the time SpotLite’s chief executive vowed to move operaitons to Iceland but, well, that also never happened.