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Kodak takes the Kodachrome away

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I grew up in Rochester, NY, which is home to Kodak, the iconic film company founded by George Eastman.  Much like Detroit is a car town renowned for FordGM and Chrysler, Rochester was known for its film industry.  Nearly everyone I knew had some tie to Kodak and most of my friends fathers were engineers of some sort at the many plants around town.  At its peak, Kodak employed more than 145,000 people in 1988.  It is now down to less than 30,000.  The last time I was home, I was shocked by parking lots, which the sites of were massive manufacturing plants when I was growing up.  Many of buildings of one industrial park were actually imploded in 2007. It was a stark indication of just how much Kodak had changed and how far they had fallen.   

Kodak announced earlier this week that it would be ceasing production of Kodachrome film.  Kodachrome had long been recognized for its true-tone color quality and preservation quality.  It was great slide film and among the first mass-market color films available.  It was even memorialized in a famous Paul Simon song.  Unfortunately, like all great film products, its days have been numbered for over a decade.  Now, if you’re one of the few who still shoot with Kodachrome, there’s only one facility, based in Kansas that processes the film.  Unfortunately, despite its quality and history, that won’t save it from the dustbin of chemistry and manufacturing. 

Kodak was a company built on 19th century technology–chemicals on plastic that captured images. It was old-world manufacturing on a massive scale.  It was also a company that clung onto its cash-cow core business well past the time when it was tenable, focused on its rivalry with other, mainly Japanese filmmakers.  It did not see–or probably more likely didn’t choose to focus on–the seismic shift in its core business to digital media.  This is despite the fact that it was a Kodak Engineer, Steven Sasson, who created the first digital camera in 1975 AT Kodak.  Although Kodak released a digital SLR camera in 1991 (in partnership with Nikon and as a Nikon branded product), at $13,000 it was hardly for the average consumer.  It would take more than a quarter century after Sasson’s original prototype before Kodak released its first mass-market digital camera in 2001.  Just after Kodak peaked in the late 80s and early 90s and begin dueling with Fuji for control of the film market, the rest of the consumer electronic market had begun to move on.   

Today, Kodak receives some 70% of its revenue from digital activities.  It holds the top share of the digital camera market, with nearly a quarter of the market.  Had it moved more quickly, in all liklihood it could have held a much larger share.  After all, “Kodak moments” used to be a common phrase for one that should be captured on film.  While the company spoke of capturing the moment, it was really focused on what they thought to be their business, chemicals. The real problem was people didn’t care about chemicals, they cared about the moment.  How best to capture the moment and how do so quickly and cheaply was what consumers cared about.  Very quickly, as processors sped up, as storage costs dropped, image sensors improved and all of this technology became a great deal cheaper, the old model of chemicals on plastic was displaced.  

The lessons of Kodak and its slow reaction to the changes in its industry should be a warning sign to those whose businesses is being impacted by the switch to digital media.  Focusing only on preservation of your cash-cow business could be detrimental to your long-term success and survival.  The academic journals publishing industry moved quickly to embrace online distribution.  However, in many respects there are still ties to print and many publishers still rely on the 19th-20th century revenue streams of the print-based economy.  The e-book world is much more tied to print models and distribution.  For example, the Kindle is in so many ways a technological derivative of print.  Much of the experience of reading an e-book on the Kindle is based on the experience of reading print. Even more than the technical experience of reading, the business models and approaches to distributing content is completely tied to the print sales streams.    There are so many new approaches that have not even been considered or tried.  Don’t be surprised if you are not paying attention, the entire market could shift under your business’s feet.

Life partners with Google to post photo archive online

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Life magazine, which ceased as an ongoing publication in April of 2007, has partnered with Google to digitize and post the magazine’s vast photo archive.  Most of the collection has never been seen publicly and amounts to a huge swath of America’s visual history since the 1860s.   The release of the collection was announced on the Google Blog.  The first part of the collection is now online, with the remaining 80% being digitized over the next “few months”.  Of course, this does not mean that all images in Life will be online, only those that were produced by the staff photographers (i.e., where Life holds the copyright), not the famous freelancers.

I can find no where any mention of money exchanged either from Google for the rights or for a revenue stream to support the ongoing work, although one can purchase prints of the images.  From a post on this from paidcontent.org:

  Time Inc.’s hopes, Life president Andy Blau explains: “We did this deal for really one reason, to drive traffic to Life.com. We wanted to make these images available to the greater public … everything else from that is really secondary.”  

While exploring the collection, I also noticed Google’s Image Labler, a game to tag images.  The goal of the game is to get points by matching your tags with those of another random player, when you both see the same images.  The game was launched in September of 2006. While I spent about 5 minutes using it, what is truly scary is the number of points raked up by the “all time leaders”. As of today, “Yew Half Maille” had collected 31,463,230. Considering that I collected about 4,000 points in my 5 minutes, how much time are people spending doing this?

Flickr project at Library of Congress

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Further to the CENDI meeting held yesterday:

Deanna Marcum was the opening speaker of the meeting and her presentation primarily focused on the report on the Future of Bibliographic Control and her response to the report.  One of the recommendations of that report was that libraries should invest in making available their special collections.  One thing that LC has in abundance is special collections.

Deanna discussed the pilot project on Flickr to post digitized images on the service and encourage public tagging of the images.  The pilot includes scans of “1,600 color images from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information and 1,500+ images from the George Grantham Bain News Service.”  As of today the project has 4,665 items on Flickr.  The group has had great success in getting thousands of people to tag and enrich the images with descriptions.  In bouncing through a number of images, most of them looked like they’d received more than 2,000 views each.  That translates to more than 9 million views (although I could be overshooting the toal just because of a very small sample size) — although I know from my own account, there’s a lot of double-counting of reloading of pages.  Regardless, this is terrific amount of visibility for an image collection that many wouldn’t be able to see before they was digitized.

In glancing through the tag list that have been added to the images, I expect that there is much that would concern a professional cataloger.  Many of the tags conform to the odd space-less text string convention on Flickr.  Also, from the perspective of making images easier to find, I’d say the results are mixed.  LC will be producing a report of their results in “in the next few weeks” (per Deanna).

Finally, I’m not sure that providing public-domain library content to freely to commercial organizations is in the best interests of the contributing library.  This follows on some further consideration of my post yesterday on Google’s settlement with the publishing and authors communities for the Google Book project.

After the meeting, I took the opportunity of being at the LC to see their exhibition on Creating the United States.  Yesterday was the last day of the exhibition, so unfortunately, if you hadn’t seen it already, it will be “a number of years” before LC brings back out of the vaults the Jefferson draft of the Declreation of Independence.  Along with the exhibition on the American founding, they also have on display, the Jefferson library collection and the  Waldseemüller maps.  These items are among most important maps in the history of cartography, which were the first to name the landmass across the Atlantic from Europe “America” in 1507 and 1516.  I believe the maps will continue to be on display for sometime.  I encourage anyone in the area to stop in and take a look.