For decades Kodak’s film business was going strong — yet the film industry was headed toward disaster.
It was only a matter of time before digital photography would take over, and investing in digital was not a strategy Kodak wanted to develop. Instead, it poured money into other avenues — investing in the technology for taking pictures on mobile phones — but shied away from mass-market digital cameras.
Kodak’s refusal to adapt to progress, to understand where the market was headed, is what eventually drove the company into bankruptcy. Through new innovations, it is now solidly recovering.
There is a fundamental business lesson to be learned here that recalls the promises of more coal mining jobs made during the presidential race — for the coal industry is to cheap natural gas as what antiquated photographic film is to digital photography.
The disruption the photo industry experienced as it refused to progress and adapt is a powerful lesson for coal miners and the consumer electronics industry to learn from. As film shifted to digital, the companies that succeeded were those that reinvented their businesses and hatched new jobs and opportunities to grow in an otherwise unsustainable future. From this change we also saw many other business opportunities emerge — think Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Upthere, which uses the Cloud as your primary storage for all your data and photographs.
Just as film photography forever ceded to digital, so too is the once dominant coal industry giving way to cleaner and newer renewable technologies.
Indeed, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that natural gas will surpass coal in U.S. power generation by the end of this year as plant owners increasingly make the switch, and not only in response to environmental regs.
So when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes unrealistic promises of job recovery for coal miners, he’s demonstrating a refusal to see where the industry is headed, and giving false hope to tens of thousands of despondent Americans. By denying the laws of modernization and new clean-burning energy opportunities, he is further setting this industry up for failure.
But there is a lesson for those brave enough to think outside the box.
While it’s important for Mr. Trump to understand where the industry is inevitably headed, real progress doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t simply shut down mines because the future for coal is bleak, but rather we need to take steps towards the future. This is where we can apply the lessons learned from the fall of the film photography industry.
As someone who was developing film and printing photos professionally since 1990, I not only experienced the disruption of that industry firsthand, but built a successful business out of it, using Kodak technology and a dedicated team of loyal employees.
When the popular canisters of film faded as the1990s progressed, new memories were being digitally produced. Realizing that the digital wave was inevitable, and that trillions of snapshots were fading away from the ravages of time, I saw an opportunity to capitalize on the trend. I founded ScanMyPhotos.com to revisit decades of past pictures and create a gateway to upload analog photographs to all the popular photo-sharing apps.
The lessons from my bulk photo-scanning business were recently celebrated as our 300-millionth picture was digitized.
Imagine what the coal industry could do if it decided to embrace the coming change instead of resisting it? The No. 1 priority, of course, would be to preserve value by adopting a strategy for slowing down and even reversing growth, while pooling top talent to brainstorm new ways to move into the transition period.
The change that needs to happen to this industry will not occur by spouting false promises for votes, but by re-calibrating the entrepreneurial passion that built our great nation.
The harmful chemicals once used to develop photographs, and the smoke from coal-burning generators, are being replaced by environmentally-friendly alternatives that will provide more stable jobs to the masses.
And just like the coal industry, manufacturers and retailers of legacy tech also need to focus on positive solutions that work with the coming changes. From this we’ll see a whole new generation of jobs and opportunities emerge.
Mitch Goldstone is president/CEO of ScanMyPhotos.com, a global photo scanning service that recently digitized its 300-millionth image.