What happened to Kodak?

Kodak is an American analog photography company founded in 1892 by George Eastman and Henry A. Strong. By the 2010s as the photography market had been flipped upside down by the rise of smartphones and digital photography, Kodak didn’t manage to adapt to this new market, thus losing its market leadership.

BackgroundEastman Kodak Company, commonly referred to as Kodak, was once a renowned American multinational corporation known for its pioneering role in photography and imaging technology. Founded by George Eastman in 1888, Kodak became synonymous with photography for over a century and introduced many innovations, including the first handheld camera and the development of color photography.
Dominance in FilmFor much of the 20th century, Kodak dominated the photographic film market. The company’s “Kodak Moment” advertising campaign contributed to the popularization of photography as a way to capture special memories. It held a near-monopoly in the film industry and enjoyed immense profitability.
Digital PhotographyDespite its success in traditional film photography, Kodak was slow to embrace digital photography technology. This delay proved to be a pivotal mistake as digital cameras started to gain popularity in the late 20th century. Kodak’s initial reluctance to transition to digital technology eroded its market share and profitability. It faced strong competition from companies like Canon and Nikon, which adapted to the digital era more swiftly.
Bankruptcy and RestructuringThe decline of Kodak’s film business, coupled with its inability to establish a substantial presence in digital photography, led to a financial crisis. In January 2012, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. During the bankruptcy process, the company underwent significant restructuring. It divested many of its non-core businesses and shifted its focus toward commercial printing, packaging, and functional printing. Kodak emerged from bankruptcy in September 2013 as a much smaller and different company than its former self.
Sale of PatentsTo address its financial woes, Kodak also sold off a substantial portion of its intellectual property, including patents related to digital imaging, to various technology companies. This sale generated revenue but further reduced Kodak’s future potential in the imaging industry.
LegacyKodak’s decline is often cited as a cautionary tale of a once-dominant company’s failure to adapt to technological change. It serves as an example of how even industry leaders can be disrupted if they don’t innovate. Despite its struggles, Kodak’s brand and iconic yellow-and-red logo still hold recognition value, and the company continues to exist as a much smaller entity focused on specific business areas.
Impact on PhotographyThe decline of Kodak had a profound impact on the world of photography. It marked the near-extinction of traditional film photography, with digital photography becoming the dominant form. The shift to digital also transformed the way photographs are taken, stored, and shared. While Kodak’s role as a market leader faded, digital photography opened up new opportunities for individuals and companies in the imaging industry.


Kodak is an American analog photography company founded in 1892 by George Eastman and Henry A. Strong.

Some argue that the failure of Kodak to capitalize on digital photography was one the greatest corporate mistakes of the 20th century.

Indeed, it was Kodak engineer Steve Sasson who invented the digital camera in 1975.

When Sasson presented his prototype to Kodak executives, he noted that

it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute – but don’t tell anyone about it’”.

In subsequent years, many interpreted the above quote as being concrete evident of Kodak’s disinterest in new technology.

Others saw it as Kodak recognizing the potential of digital photography and wanting to keep the technology a secret.

The actual truth lies somewhere in the middle. Below is a look at what happened to Kodak as the company entered the digital age.

Half-hearted interest

To say Kodak had no interest in digital cameras would be false. In truth, Kodak had someinterest in the technology.

They received a patent for Sasson’s invention in 1978 and invested billions of dollars in a range of digital cameras first released in 1991.

The company continued to invest in digital technology for 20 years before filing for bankruptcy in 2012.

We suggest the company did not have enough of an interest in digital cameras to capitalize on their immense popularity.

Kodak began by selling digital sensors to Sony without committing to making a digital camera itself.

The company was also reluctant to produce digital cameras during the 1990s because most digital cameras sales were concentrated in Japan where rival Fuji dominated.

During that same decade, Kodak remained largely fearful of entering into full-scale production of digital cameras.

In 1993 alone, it spent $5 billion on digital imaging research only to channel the funds into 23 separate photo scanner projects.

In 2001 and with a new CEO at the helm, Kodak finally committed to digital photography by releasing its EasyShare line of digital cameras.

By that stage, however, the market was saturated with high-quality offerings from Canon, Sony, and Nikon.

Changing retail landscape

Kodak was also a victim of a changing retail landscape in North America.

During the 70s and 80s, every town had a film store stocking Kodak products which allowed the company to corner as much as 90% of the market. 

This changed when big-box retailers such as Walmart, Costco, and Sears started to emerge and began acquiring smaller film stores.

Kodak was then forced to sell in larger retail stores with more competition. What’s more, the business model of these stores involved forcing manufacturers into providing high-quality products at lower prices.

At the same time, Kodak was enduring lower profit margins, Fuji used its profits from the Japanese market to aggressively expand within North America.

It also opened a film production plant in South Carolina and cut prices to help it steal market share from Kodak.

Kodak then endured a price war with Fuji that it would eventually lose – mainly because it was too conservative to lower its prices for fear of further eroding profits.

Consumer sentiment toward foreign companies also changed in North America during this period, allowing Fuji to strengthen its position relative to Kodak.

Missed opportunities

As soon as digital cameras became mainstream, consumers started using smartphones for their photography needs.

Digital camera sales plummeted as people went from printing pictures to storing them on devices and sharing them on social media platforms.

This put Kodak – already lagging in the digital camera market – at a further disadvantage.

In 2001 the company acquired the photo-sharing website Ofoto but missed a huge opportunity to turn the acquisition into a Facebook-style photo-sharing service.

Despite the obvious shift to online sharing and social media, Kodak used Ofoto to try and convince people to print more digital images.

In so doing, the company failed to recognize online photo sharing as a new industry in itself and not simply an extension of the printing industry.

Kodak sold Ofoto to Shutterfly for $25 million as part of its bankruptcy proceedings around the same time Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion.

Key takeaways:

  • Kodak is an American photography product and service company founded in 1892 by George Eastman and Henry A. Strong. After dominating the photographic film industry for decades, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
  • Kodak was not ignorant of digital camera technology. But it did fail at various stages to commit to digital products entirely despite overwhelming evidence that the technology would prove profitable.
  • Kodak was also the victim of the changing retail landscape and consumer sentiment toward foreign products in the United States. Blind in its devotion to printing, it also missed an opportunity to create a Facebook-style photo-sharing website three years before Facebook itself was conceived.

Quick Timeline

  • Kodak is an American photography company founded in 1892.
  • Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the digital camera in 1975, but Kodak did not fully capitalize on the technology.
  • Kodak had some interest in digital cameras and invested in digital technology, but it was hesitant to fully commit to digital photography.
  • The changing retail landscape and competition from Fuji impacted Kodak’s market share and profit margins.
  • Kodak missed opportunities to adapt to the digital era, including not fully embracing online photo sharing and social media.
  • The rise of smartphones and digital photography led to a decline in digital camera sales and further disadvantaged Kodak.
  • In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy, representing one of the greatest corporate mistakes of the 20th century.

Other Failure Stories

What Happened to WeWork

WeWork is a commercial real estate company providing shared workspaces for tech start-ups and other enterprise services. It was founded by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey in 2010. WeWork’s business model was built on complex arrangements between the company and its landlords. There were also several conflicts of interest between Neumann and WeWork, which provided the impetus for the failed IPO and significant devaluation that would follow.

What Happened to Netscape

Netscape – or Netscape Communications Corporation – was a computer services company best known for its web browser. The company was founded in 1994 by Marc Andreessen and James H. Clark as one of the internet’s first and most important start-ups. The Netscape Navigator web browser was released in 1995 and became the browser of choice for the users of the time. By November 1998, it had been acquired by AOL, which tried unsuccessfully to revive the popularity of the web browser. Ten years later, Netscape was shut down entirely.

What Happened to Musical.ly

Musically, or Musical.ly as it is officially known, was a Chinese social media platform headquartered in Shanghai. After passing 200 million users in May 2017, the platform was shut down by tech company ByteDance in November. After its acquisition, ByteDance suggested Musical.ly would continue to operate as a standalone platform. Company representatives noted that it would be able to leverage ByteDance’s AI technology and enormous reach in the Chinese market. Musically was ultimately absorbed into TikTok in June 2018, with the app no longer available in August of the same year. Existing users were offered technical support and several new features as a sweetener.

What Happened to Vine

Vine was an American video social networking platform with a focus on looping video clips of six seconds in length, founded by Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll in 2012 to help people capture casual moments in their lives and share them with their friends. Vine went on to become a massively popular platform. Yet by 2016, Twitter discontinued the mobile app, allowing users to view or download content on the Vine website. It then announced a reconfigured app allowing creators to share content to a connected Twitter account only. This marked the end of Vine.

What Happened to CNN Plus

CNN Plus was a video streaming service and offshoot of CNN’s cable TV news network that was launched on March 29, 2022. The service was ultimately shut down just one month after it was launched. Trouble began for the platform when parent company WarnerMedia merged with Discovery. The latter was unimpressed with paltry viewer data and, with $55 billion in debt to clear, was not interested in funding CNN+ moving forward. Other contributing factors to CNN Plus’s demise include a lack of compelling content and streaming service market saturation.

What Happened to Clubhouse

Clubhouse is a social app that allows thousands of people to communicate with each other in audio chat rooms. At one point, the company was worth $4 billion and boasted users such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Clubhouse declined because it rode the wave of pandemic lockdowns and suffered when people resumed their normal routines. The decision to remove the invite-only feature also caused a rapid influx of new members and removed any exclusivity. Clubhouse management also failed to define a business model and was unaware of the components of a successful social media site.

What Happened to Facebook


What Happened To Carvana

Carvana is an American online used car retailer headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. The company – which sells cars in unique vending machines – was the fastest-growing used vehicle retailer in the United States, with revenue of $3.94 billion in 2019. Yet by 2022, on $12.8 billion in revenue, the company reported almost $2.9 billion in net losses.

What Happened To Houseparty

Houseparty was an app-based group video chat platform for mobile and desktop. Released in February 2016, the platform rapidly grew to hundreds of millions of users and was the #1 social app in 82 countries by May 2020. Less than 18 months later, however, owner Epic Games announced that it would be shutting down the app in October 2021. Let’s explain the reasons for Houseparty’s demise below.

What Happened To ChaCha

ChaCha was a human-guided search engine founded in 2006. The platform provided a valuable service at a time when traditional search engine algorithms were unreliable and less developed. When algorithms did become sufficiently developed, they provided answers to questions for free and much more rapidly than ChaCha could. The ChaCha business model was also unscalable, with employees overworked as the company tried to stay ahead of innovation. ChaCha’s demise was also compounded by the smartphone, which provided another avenue for consumers to find information. A belated attempt to restructure and cut costs followed, but the company could not service its debt past 2016.

What Happened To RadioShack

RadioShack is an American electronics retailer founded by brothers Milton and Theodore Deutschmann in 1921. The company enjoyed market dominance in the 70s and 80s but faded fast after a slew of missed opportunities. RadioShack operated over four thousand stores in the USA, but many were placed too close together which caused sales cannibalization. These stores were also often small and had a confusing inventory mix. RadioShack sold the first mass-produced personal computer with much success. However, the company saw no future in personal computers because of the high cost of hardware. It then instructed sales managers to intentionally keep PC sales under a certain threshold.

What Happened To Compaq

Compaq was an American developer and producer of computer products and services. After strong initial success, the company was acquired by HP in 2002 with the Compaq brand retired in 2013. Compaq’s short-sighted acquisition of DEC provided the catalyst for its decline. While the company was dealing with the ramifications of the acquisition, competitors such as Dell and Gateway increased their market share. Compaq also experienced a loss in revenue after the dot-com bubble burst. This was exacerbated by the standardization of chipsets and motherboards by Intel.

What Happened To Kodak

Kodak is an American photography product and service company founded in 1892 by George Eastman and Henry A. Strong. After dominating the photographic film industry for decades, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Kodak was not ignorant of digital camera technology. But it did fail at various stages to commit to digital products entirely despite overwhelming evidence that the technology would prove profitable. Kodak was also the victim of the changing retail landscape and consumer sentiment toward foreign products in the United States. Blind in its devotion to printing, it also missed an opportunity to create a Facebook-style photo-sharing website three years before Facebook itself was conceived.

What Happened To Friendster

Friendster was a social networking site that then transitioned to a gaming platform. Ultimately, Friendster failed to capitalize on its early success as one of the first social media platforms to experience mass uptake. When Friendster became a gaming platform, it failed to notify its user base. This set in motion the migration of users to Facebook which would continue for some years. Friendster’s decision to raise funds via venture capital funding populated its board with investors who were not interested in technology or innovation. The company was acquired by MOL Global in 2009 who then sold its patents to Facebook soon after.

What Happened To StumbleUpon

xStumbleUpon was an early social network founded by Garrett Camp, Geoff Smith, Justin LaFrance, and Eric Boyd. At one point, the platform was responsible for half of all social media traffic in the United States. StumbleUpon suffered intense competition from the likes of Pinterest, Digg, and Reddit – both in terms of site functionality and monetization strategy. After a failed partnership with eBay, Camp bought back the company and instituted a major redesign to limited success. The StumbleUpon user experience became outdated as consumers preferred to waste time scrolling through news feeds. Upon this realization, Camp shut down the service in 2018 to focus on a more modern iteration called Mix.com

What Happened To Altavista

Altavista was a pioneering search engine developed by a group of Digital Equipment (DEC) researchers. It was originally created to showcase the power of a then-revolutionary DEC supercomputer. After an ominous partnership with Yahoo in 1996, AltaVista underwent a series of acquisitions and format charges as several companies tried to make it profitable. In the process, the search engine lost market share to up-and-comer Google. Yahoo acquired AltaVista in 2003 and absorbed the technology behind the search engine into its own platform. AltaVista was formally put to rest ten years later.

What Happened To Blockbuster

Blockbuster was an American movie and video game rental chain. The company went from industry leader to filing for bankruptcy with $1 billion in debt in less than a decade. Blockbuster relied on late fees to drive a high proportion of revenue. This strategy proved uncompetitive after Netflix offered fee-free movie rentals by mail. Blockbuster lost significant market share to Netflix in the ensuing years and experienced a decline in profit after abolishing late fees in an attempt to remain competitive. Blockbuster’s demise is mostly due to an inability to innovate. Although passing on the offer to purchase Netflix is noteworthy, the company failed because of a myopic focus on its outdated rental franchise model.

What Happened To Napster

Napster was a peer-to-peer music-sharing software application. It was the first such platform to provide free access to the full history of recorded music online. Napster quickly attracted the attention of music artists, with Metallica instigating court proceedings against the company for copyright infringement and the distribution of unreleased music. Napster was forced to shut down after the Recording Industry Association of America won a court injunction. Mounting legal fees and compensation costs led to the company filing for bankruptcy in 2002.

What Happened To BlackBerry

BlackBerry is an iconic smartphone brand owned by Canadian company BlackBerry Limited. The company enjoyed first-mover status in the smartphone industry, but ultimately squandered its advantage. BlackBerry was ignorant and in some ways disrespectful of competitors in the industry. It was more concerned with protecting its proprietary technology than innovating to stay relevant. Though profitable to some extent, BlackBerry’s focus on enterprise customers came at the expense of the far more lucrative consumer market. Government opposition to censoring information also eroded one of the core strengths of the company’s smartphone.

Why Nokia Failed

Nokia is a Finnish telecommunications, consumer technology, and information technology company founded in 1865. It enjoyed 51% of the global market share for mobile phones in 1998. Nokia’s device-based hardware system was cumbersome and outdated, but the company persisted with it while competitors developed the software-based iOS and Android operating systems. By the time Nokia phones offered Android, the company had been left behind. Corporate mismanagement within Nokia was rife and culture suffered as a result. Internally and externally, the company failed to acknowledge its diminishing relevance and market share.

What Happened To Xerox

Xerox is an American corporation selling print and digital document products and services worldwide. The company failed to capitalize on revolutionary research performed at its PARC R&D center. Xerox was visited by Steve Jobs in 1979 who gained access to PARC in exchange for Xerox receiving shares in Apple. He then purchased the rights to a Xerox GUI and used it to produce the Apple Macintosh. Xerox released the Xerox Star personal computer in 1981 in a rare example of the company selling an innovative product commercially. However, the Star was prohibitively expensive, targeted the wrong market, and was a decade ahead of its time.

What Happened To Quibi

Quibi was an American short-form streaming service for smartphones. Unfortunate timing with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is at least partly responsible for the failure of the platform. Despite billions being invested in securing high-end talent and production studios, Quibi content was generally poor quality. In any case, there was no way for consumers to share or engage with the content they did enjoy. Quibi was not helped by its pricing strategy and the presence of established competitors offering more for less. It was also improperly and inadequately marketed.

About The Author

Scroll to Top