So Kodak, the company that invented amateur photography in the 19th century and invented digital photography in the 20th, is on the ropes. There are obvious lessons for newspapers and newsrooms. Here are a few of them.
Your business isn't what you think it is. Kodak at its peak looked like a photography company, but it was really a giant chemical manufacturing company. Digital tech rendered the entire chemical photography business irrelevant. By comparison, newspapers looked like news and information companies, but they were really expensive commercial advertisement printing and delivery systems. If you have borrowed heavily to build and maintain capital-intensive processes that are suddenly rendered irrelevant, you're in deep trouble no matter how smart you are and no matter what you do. Printing isn't yet irrelevant, but it's trending that way. This is not to the time to invest in a new three-around compact press line.
Brands decay. When I started in photography, Kodak was the trusted source. (Sound familiar, newspaper people?) We might flirt with funky European Agfa and exotic Asian Fuji, but when it was time to get serious, it was Kodak Tri-X and Kodak paper and Kodak Dektol. In a digital world, Kodak's brand means little. And if you think your newspaper's brand is a huge asset, you probably need to get out and talk to some young people now and then.
Early to market doesn't mean you win. When some of you kids were still in diapers and I was still in Minneapolis, we set up an early Kodak digital camera (I think it might have been a DC40) on a tripod at the State Fair. People queued up around the building to get their pictures taken and published online. Kodak was an early mover. So were newspapers, which had online products before the Web existed. Look how that turned out.
Disruption doesn't happen just once. On the digital side, Kodak initially pivoted quite well, creating the "Easyshare" concept and reconquering digital photography from the Japanese tech companies. By the middle of the last decade, Kodak was the market leader. But suddenly smartphone cameras have autofocus lenses, 8-megapixel sensors and HDTV video capability. Result: the low-end market is toast, and Kodak isn't taken seriously in the high end, where Canon and Nikon reign. Newspapers have seen a similar thing happen with classified advertising, which in the late 1990s was an online cash cow. Real estate agents and car dealers now run their own publishing operations.
All of this may seem like a downer, but it doesn't need to be. If you clear out the assumptions, what's left may be easier to understand. Businesses still need convey offers to consumers, and if anything, digital technology has chopped the audience up in to little pieces and distributed it all over the universe. Pulling audiences back together creates value. Make that your goal, and don't let up for a second.