What Professional Photographers Can Learn From Kodak

To cut right to the point, Kodak

The logo from 1987 to 2006. "Evolution of...
The logo from 1987 to 2006. “Evolution of our brand logo”. Eastman Kodak . . Retrieved 2007-09-26 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

found out that “quality” wasn’t necessarily what the public wanted.  In Seth Godin’s blog today, “Misunderstanding quality”, he states:

“It turns out that what people actually wanted was the ability to take and share billions of photos at vanishingly small cost. The ‘quality’ that most of the customer base wanted was cheap and easy, not museum quality.”

He goes on to say:

“Quality is not an absolute measure”

Before you shoot me, or Godin, stop and think about the world we live in where we are bombarded by millions of images daily.  Some are great, some mediocre and some are really bad in terms of quality.  Add to that the millions of videos on You Tube and we are witnessing an avalanche of imagery.  It makes my eyes glaze over and my head hurt just to think about it, let alone try to digest it all. But the fact is that we have become a culture where imagery is quickly replacing text to communicate.

So, with imagery becoming so prolific in terms of how we communicate, why are so many professional photographers struggling or going the way of Kodak and Polaroid?  Because they assume that the general public wants quality images.  Quite honestly I wonder if most people these days even notice the difference. Like Seth says, they just want to take photos and share them with their friends. Ironically, companies like Kodak, Polaroid, and other camera manufacturers, along with the ever-growing supply of electronic platforms enable us to do this easily and cheaply.

So how does a “professional” photographer compete in a culture that doesn’t always appreciate or need quality imagery?  Two suggestions – recognize what the market wants and is willing to pay for and produce something that is unique and authentic to whom you are.  Oh, and one more thing – don’t whine about the state of the industry because it won’t do you any good.  Instead, of looking in the rear view mirror and lamenting the past, embrace the opportunities that technology has brought to our craft and prosper. And remember that “change” is inevitable, so stop resisting it.


6 Replies to “What Professional Photographers Can Learn From Kodak”

  1. In an ethnocentric culture (maybe all cultures are ethnocentric), if your specialty is showing other cultures, it´s difficult to offer what the market wants. You have to search and find that minuscule part of the market (the looooong tail) that is looking for your kind of uniqueness. It exists, somewhere. It takes work to find it, but I´d rather do that work than produce commodity images.

  2. As another story stated a few days ago – we produce 1.2B new images per day. Clearly it has become the new language.

    So are there lessons from the art of language to be looked at for photographers? Our kids communicate via text messages, Twitter, and FB. Often a far cry from proper grammar and the nuances of language of the classic they still have to read in high school.

    Movies too have changed. The pace of action telling is very different between even 15 and 30 years ago and now. Watch an older movie and you want to tell the director to keep moving on and get to the point.

    We live in an age of instant gratification in every aspect of live. There is no time for quality, because quality takes time.

    But back to photographers. I think there are different lessons for direct to consumer photographers, photo journalists, editorial, and commercial assignment. Where it comes to simply communicating every day life, such as a family portrait, there may not be much left that a photographer can offer on a regular enough basis. In journalism we are ready to accept the iPhone shot that happened to be in the action, but we still get stopped in our track by an arresting image. But when it comes to brands trying to communicate and stand out in this visually overstimulated world, I think there still is a need, possibly even more than ever, for an image that is ‘made’ instead of ‘taken’. For now at least.

    However, the dynamics of who gets to be behind the camera has changed there too.

  3. Kodak lost out due to poor corporate vision: They had the first digital pro camera and never thought it would amount to much. They never sought to collaborate with industry leaders and associated industries to make it something no one can imagine (such as today’s Nikon or Canon DSLR) Just think what Kodak’s stock would have been worth today if the CEO had sought a partnership with the likes of Apple, Canon, Nikon, Adobe or any one of other market movers…
    As for working pros… if the average consumer doesn’t appreciate quality, and I don’t disagree, seek out the market that still does appreciate and demand quality. My favorite observation about our culture is this: Mediocrity is the new Excellence. I still strive for Excellence. I forgo mediocrity. I also have been having the best years ever [financially & creatively] in my 24 year career. I refuse to subscribe to all the ‘sky is falling’ chatter about our industry. I see all the compelling forces many pros whine about. I choose to take advantage of them…

  4. Jacques, Jan and Kevin,
    Thanks for your insightful comments. I am an optimist generally speaking and I try to focus on the opportunities, rather than the problems. Change is inevitable. We choose how we react to it. While there is a lot that I don’t like about getting older, I love the perspective I have gotten from my years of experience. I look back at what I may have thought was “cool” 20 years ago and some of those hip and cool ideas turned out to be just the opposite.
    Nevertheless, I love the life experience and at the end of the day, or month or millenium – we are just a blip on the timeline of the universe.

  5. If you do something everyone else can do then of course it loses value… not everyone can do what I do, most photogs go to school to learn the same thing everyone else does. I refuse to conform, therefore I offer something totally unique.

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