Monday, February 27, 2017

How Fujifilm Almost Died (But Didn't)

Fuji Film - South Weber, Utah
I watched a really fascinating documentary about Fujifilm. It's an episode of Channel News Asia's Inside The Storm series called Back From The Brink. If you have the time (it's about 45 minutes long) click the link and watch it.

One point that I found interesting is that Fujifilm (and I'm sure others in the industry) knew that digital photography was coming. They knew that film was going to be replaced by digital. Even though going digital was going to eat into their own film sales, they knew if they didn't do it someone else would.

So in 1988 Fujifilm made the 1.1 megapixel Fujix DS-1P, which was the world's first fully digital camera, and followed that up in 1989 with the Fujix DS-X, which was the world's first commercially produced digital camera. These cameras offered poor image quality and had really high price tags, so it is no surprise that they weren't successful.

The digital photography age didn't come when Fujifilm thought it was going to come, and film sales continued to climb and climb and climb. Fujifilm decided to pause digital camera development until film sales showed signs of decline. They figured that film would die a slow death.

The year that film peaked was 2001, with more film sales of any year before or since. Fujifilm saw big profits that year. But digital arrived swiftly, and film sales dropped dramatically--30% in both 2002 and 2003. Fujifilm was not prepared for this. They bet on digital coming a decade too soon, and then made a bad assumption that it wouldn't be an immediate takeover. Fujifilm almost died.

A new CEO saved the company. He swiftly diversified Fujifilm. He used the resources and expertise that the company already had and applied it to other fields, namely pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Photography is now a minor part of Fujifilm's business plan, despite commercial success with the X-series cameras and Instax.

Even though photography is now more-or-less a niche market for Fujifilm, they proudly proclaim that they are committed to it. Even if they made no profit from it, photography is such an important part of their history and is such an important part of society that they will keep producing photographic products no matter what. That's what they said, anyway.

If you have a some time in your day, be sure to watch the documentary. It's very fascinating and worth your time.

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