When we look at the decision Kodak announced today to sell its film division, are we looking at the future of the book publishing industry? For decades, Kodak’s name was synonymous with film. Now, as the company struggles in bankruptcy during a costly patent fight versus Apple, it is selling the very thing that once made its reputation.
Cast your mind back twenty-odd years ago to when the first consumer-grade digital cameras started coming out. Did anyone look at those grainy, costly things and think, “Hey, this is gonna replace film one day!”? (Well, maybe some people predicted it in the same optimistic sense as they’ve long predicted microfilm and book spools will replace printed books, but seriously?) Certainly Polaroid and Kodak didn’t seem to take it seriously—to their eventual chagrin.
As I wrote for TeleRead a while ago, it used to be that you could find even relatively obscure sizes of film at your local corner store. I was able to take and have developed photos using a then-30-year-old Brownie Hawkeye box camera, and never had any trouble finding film for it.
But after twenty years of development, all the obscure types of film went by the wayside, and even the more common ones have become harder to find. There was still a photo developing counter at the K-Mart where I worked 15 years ago when I worked there, but a few years ago they ripped it out for more space.
So maybe fifteen, twenty years ago, people might have looked at the immature state of digital cameras and thought, “Oh, no, that will never replace film. Maybe almost everyone will use it, but film will stay around forever.” People are saying that about e-books versus print books now. But after a couple of decades of improvement, Kodak is now selling the very thing that used to make Kodak Kodak. (It already took Paul Simon’s Kodachrome away.)
So given ten more years or so of e-books maturing, might we read stories about Big Six publishers divesting themselves of their printing divisions, finding it more economical to farm out whatever print runs are necessary anymore to print-on-demand?
It’s going to be interesting to find out.
(Photo taken by me, myself!)