Christopher Bonanos, author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid, has authored a lengthy piece for the Washington Post on what Kodak — and whoever buys its film lines — can learn from the fall of Polaroid. The article offers some interesting facts about, and insights into, the film photography industry:
Yes, Polaroid and Kodak made hundreds of millions of cameras. But that was never their principal business: The hardware existed mostly to sell film. This is what business-school professors call the razor-blade model, pioneered by Gillette: The razor is sold at minimal profit or even given away, and the blades sell for years afterward at a healthy profit margin. Amazon does the same with the Kindle, selling it cheaply to encourage enthusiastic e-book buying.
More than anything else, Polaroid’s desire in the 1990s to keep film sales up and film factories humming was what killed the company. When it should’ve been diving into a variety of digital businesses, Polaroid doubled down on analog-film production, building new production equipment and trying to economize.
The business model Bonanos describes is also known as freebie marketing.
What Kodak could still learn from Polaroid [The Washington Post]
Image credit: razor blade by scottfeldstein
Here’s an interesting piece of photo trivia for today: did you know that Apple’s similarities with Kodak don’t end with Steve Jobs modeling his career and his company after Polaroid? The ongoing dispute between Apple and Samsung is strikingly similar to the battle Polaroid had with Kodak many decades ago.
New York magazine editor Christopher Bonanos has written a new book titled Instant: The Story of Polaroid, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of Edwin Land’s revolutionary company. In the video above, Bonanos offers a brief history of Polaroid, including how Land’s ideas inspired entrepreneurs to follow:
[Edwin] Land did no market research. He once said that marketing is what you do if your product is no good. Instead, what he believed was this: you had to show people something they had no idea they wanted, but that was irresistible. To that end, what he would do was turn Polaroid’s annual meeting into sort of a show. He would get up on stage, he would show the new camera, he would demonstrate whatever the new product was, and by the end of the meeting you completely had to have one. You were drawn into Polaroidland.
Remind you of someone? If you’re thinking Steve Jobs, you’re right. The similarities were not a coincidence. As we shared last year, Steve Jobs considered Land his role model, and used many of his ideas in turning Apple into the juggernaut tech company it is today.
If you think about it, there are many parallels between Apple and Polaroid: both companies introduced innovative products that redefined markets in their time, both were founded by college dropouts, and both emphasized design and usability in their products. What you might not know is that it’s not a coincidence. Christopher Bonanos wrote a fascinating article for the New York Times on how Steve Jobs idolized Polaroid founder Edwin Land and modeled his career after Land’s:
The two men met at least twice. John Sculley, the Apple C.E.O. who eventually clashed with Jobs, was there for one meeting, when Jobs made a pilgrimage to Land’s labs in Cambridge, Mass., and wrote in his autobiography that both men described a singular experience: “Dr. Land was saying: ‘I could see what the Polaroid camera should be. It was just as real to me as if it was sitting in front of me, before I had ever built one.’ And Steve said: ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the way I saw the Macintosh.’ He said, If I asked someone who had only used a personal calculator what a Macintosh should be like, they couldn’t have told me. There was no way to do consumer research on it, so I had to go and create it and then show it to people and say, ‘Now what do you think?’”
The worldview he was describing perfectly echoed Land’s: “Market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good.”
Both men were also kicked out of the companies they built, but that’s where the stories differ. Jobs returned to Apple a decade later and his company went on to become the world’s largest tech firm, while Land died a decade later and his company has filed for bankruptcy twice since 2001.
The Man Who Inspired Jobs [New York Times]