January 21, 2012


Snapshot of a Creative Destruction (John Steele Gordon, January 21, 2012, The American)

One technology replaces another only when it is better or cheaper or both. The automobile, for instance, was so much more versatile, safe, and easy to use than the horse and buggy that, once Henry Ford brought its price within reach of the average man, it replaced the old technology in only 20 years.

Eastman Kodak, one of the iconic American companies for most of the 20th century, likewise rose to greatness on the basis of a new technology. Now, apparently, it will die because of another. [...]

By the 1920s, Eastman Kodak had a near monopoly on both film and cameras in the United States, controlling about 90 percent of the film market and 85 percent of the camera market, a monopoly that it would enjoy for decades. The company was added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1930 and would stay on the list until 2004. For most Americans, photography simply was Kodak, and its yellow boxes were seen everywhere. Paul Simon had a hit song called "Kodachrome," after the company's signature color film, the first in the world for the amateur market, introduced in 1935.

In the 1980s, the Japanese Fujifilm began to make inroads into the American market, cutting into Kodak's sales. And then came digital photography. Digital photographs do not use film, instead they capture light on an array of light-sensitive sensors and then store the image as a digital file.

The advantages over film are almost limitless. A digital camera can take and store hundreds of pictures of astonishing resolution. And once you purchase the camera, there is nothing else to buy: No film, no processing. And, of course, there's no waiting. Digital photography is instant photography. The images are easily stored--impervious to heat and moisture--in a computer, which can also edit, organize, manipulate, and send them to others. It is little surprise then that, once the price dropped within reach, digital photography largely replaced film in only a decade.

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Posted by at January 21, 2012 7:59 AM

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