Kodak officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last night, ending recent speculation that the iconic camera and film company with a history going back more than 130-years was doomed. The company has been given an 18-month emergency loan from Citibank that provides it with a $950 million lifeline to cover operating costs and allow it to continue to pay its 17,000 employees while it tries to reorganize.
Despite developing many of the key technologies that go into today's digital cameras, Kodak has had trouble adjusting to the new era of photography, holding on to bloated and money-losing divisions much longer than it should have. Its market value has sunk from a high of $31 billion just 15 years ago to just $150 million today, and there were reports in the last several months that it had burned through all its cash. According to the bankruptcy filing, the company has already closed 13 manufacturing plants, 130 processing labs, and reduced it workforce by 47,000 since 2003. Still, it's only turned out one profitable year since 2004.
Kodak dates its history to 1880, when founder George Eastman began making and selling photographic plates in Rochester, New York. The company's development of inexpensive, easy-to-use cameras and the film and supplies necessary to make them work, allowed Eastman Kodak to dominate the world of photography for most of the 20th century. At one point in the 1970s, it supplied 90% of the film sold in the United States and 85% of the cameras. However, in more recent times it lost market share to more aggressive players in the camera business and failed to innovate its business, despite decades of warning signs and despite holding the patents on several important technologies related to digital imaging.
Those patents are now Kodak's most valuable asset and what it ends up doing with them could determine the future viability of the company. They have previously explored selling off some of those patents and its ability to do so now (or license the technology to other manufacturers) may be the only way it survives as a going concern. For now, it's simply another example of a giant of American manufacturing that failed to keep up with the digital age.