Polaroid and newspapers

The story of Polaroid is a sad one. The once-mighty photo company recently announced that it would stop making the instant film that made it a househould name. This came after a bankruptcy and a re-invention where most things with the Polaroid brand are made by someone else. You can’t even buy an instant camera anymore.

Now Polaroid pictures weren’t the best, but a lot of people my age and older grew up with snapshots whirring from the front of a camera and slowly developing into view. When digital cameras came onto the scene, Polaroid stuck to its guns and thought the marketshare it had was permanent. It wasn’t, of course.

Sound familiar?

After some painful reorganization, it kept producing it’s standby product, but diversified, too. Layoffs kept coming, and I think you’d have a hard time finding an analyst telling you to buy Polaroid stock. The idea seemed sound. Keep producing film for artists and people who for whatever reason don’t want to use digital cameras, and branch out. But the niche Polaroid was trying to fill wasn’t profitable.

Now they’re coming up with new products, including a portable printer that connects to your cellphone’s camera and can print a 2×3 picture. Not that they asked me, but I’m not sold on the idea. It has some value as a novelty, but you can look at the picture on the screen, and most people are content doing that. But it’s a good experiment.

The analyst at the end of the NYT article has a good quote, and one that everyone involved in innovation in any business should bear in mind:

However ingenious the process, Mr. Hoffenberg of Lyra said, people might still not be tempted to convert camera clicks into prints.

“Potential markets can exist because they aren’t tapped, but also because they aren’t actually a market,” he said. “It’s not always evident up front which is the case.”

Newspapers have long acted the way Polaroid did, but are branching out. They can’t wait any longer, though. Polaroid is a good example of what could happen if they did.

More tomorrow

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