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Photo kiosks fall victim to Kodak's collapse

It's not every day that a legendary brand exits the national stage. But last week, Eastman Kodak Co. announced plans to sell its 105,000 Photo Kiosk-brand self-service units, as well as its document and special imaging businesses — entirely shifting the company away from its imaging roots.

To call Kodak a household name would be an understatement. The brand is synonymous with personal imaging in every form, and to quote Wikipedia, "The company's ubiquity was such that its tagline 'Kodak moment' entered common lexicon as a personal event that demanded to be recorded for posterity."

But after struggling in recent years to maintain its dominance and last week's announcement detailing the company's plans to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization, the puns ensued and the Kodak moment was no more.

For those in the photo kiosk industry, or who have followed the rise and fall of the iconic company, the Kodak announcement was sad, but not surprising.

"From an insider's perspective, it's not a big shock for us," said Murray Macdonald, president of Storefront.com, a Canadian-based technology company that develops business software and services for the retail imaging and kiosk industries. "The biggest shock is for people who have depended on Kodak. They are waking up without a supplier."

According to Macdonald, Kodak has not been a competitive player for some time, and with the exception of CVS as a major national account, the kiosks have teetered on the brink of irrelevancy in an industry reliant on active development to remain valid.

As if preparing for the Kodak kiosk fallout, CVS made its own announcement on the same day the news of the Kodak sale broke. In a move away from photo kiosks entirely, CVS began offering a photo feature on its company's mobile app and CVSphoto.com. The new service allows customers to send photos directly from their smartphone or from their CVSphoto.com account to any CVS location for same-day printing and pick-up.

And although Kodak's announcement marks the end of an era, Macdonald said he believes there are potential benefits to consumers in the post-Kodak world.

"It's good for the consumer because these suppliers are going to be forced to upgrade, and it will lead to having a more modern solution," Macdonald said. "Now that Kodak is out, suppliers will have to advance their products, and the consumer will get away from the expensive replenishables that they had previously relied on with Kodak. There are more affordable alternatives out there."

Gary Pageau, formerly an executive with Photo Marketing Association International, also believes self-service printmaking isn't about to fade away just yet.

"While disappointing, the Kodak announcement isn't the end of photo kiosks," Pageau said. "In fact, now that the uncertainty of what was going to happen to Kodak's kiosk business is more straightforward, it could increase confidence in the category for larger retailers and also provide an opportunity for smaller, nimble vendors to compete"

Kodak didn't relinquish the remainder of its global grip with ease. Kodak CEO Antonio Perez until just weeks ago held out hope for the future of its kiosk business, including the Picture Kiosks in the company's initial post-bankruptcy plans. But when buyers failed to agree on Kodak's $2 billion estimation of its pending patents, the company came up short on the $660 million owed to banks, and the assets hit the proverbial chopping block.

Photo by Viktor Nagornyy.

Read more about photo kiosks.

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