The announcement that bankrupt Eastman Kodak Co. would look for a buyer for its Personalized Imaging Group, which includes film, paper and more than 100,000 kiosks worldwide, is a stunning development in the long, slow decline of the Rochester, N.Y., pioneer. Kodak without a consumer imaging component is hard to imagine.
Kodak wasn’t just another photo kiosk vendor. In many ways, it was the pioneer. Back in the late 1980s the Create-A-Print Enlargement Station allowed consumers to make 8-by-10 enlargements from negatives, and set the stage for photo kiosks and digital implementation later on.
One of the questions for the buyers of the kiosk business is whether they will be able to use the potent Kodak brand name. Sure, Kodak has lost some of its luster, but don't underestimate its influence with the core market—young moms. Depending on the buyer, the Kodak name could continue for some time as a retail fixture. Kodak has licensed its name in the past, to everything from crayons to holiday lights.
Another question is how amenable Kodak management will be to breaking up the personalized group business. It's possible there may be a buyer interested in Kodak's film and paper manufacturing capacity, but not the retail service businesses. This could be a show-stopper for a buyer.
So, who are the potential buyers? It’s a little early to be sure, but not too early to speculate. Here are a few educated guesses:
Customers: CVS and Target are the major U.S. chains with Kodak kiosk installations. It's possible they could purchase their existing kiosks and contract the maintenance to a third-party vendor, which is something even Kodak did. This, however, would be a short-term solution, as there would be no more equipment upgrades or software updates.
Competitors: Both HP and Fujifilm have the resources to take on the Kodak business. The question is, is it worth it? With the recent changes in upper management, and the departure of Vyomesh Joshi from the executive ranks, HP's commitment to inkjet printing may be waning in favor of cloud services for large businesses. Another sticking point—Kodak kiosks use thermal dye-sublimation printing, while HP kiosks are inkjet. A change in printing platform would be very costly.
Fujifilm shares Kodak's dye-sublimation printing output type, and could also benefit from acquiring Kodak's film and paper businesses. On the other hand, Fujifilm could be patient and wait for disgruntled Kodak customers to switch over to the green competitor.
Lucidiom, with the second-largest installed base of 35,000-plus kiosks, could make a play as a well, but it’s a long shot. Lucidiom recently emerged as an independent company from Noritsu Koki Co. and is working to build its enterprise website business and mobile apps. Taking on the overhead of a kiosk fleet twice its size may be too big for the nimble Lucidiom. DNP Photo is another potential suitor, and as a unit of Dai Nippon, could use the thermal-printing capacity.
Management buyout: Kodak has very experienced managers in place for this business and could find investors looking for a high-margin business with manageable growth. It won't set the VC world on fire, but it could be a profitable investment.
Online companies: A more radical approach would be for Shutterfly to purchase the kiosk business. Despite being a leader in the online photo space and recently acquiring the customers from the defunct Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly has little retail presence. Today, customers can buy photo book kits in select retailers and pick up prints in Target, but that's it. A re-badged Kodak kiosk would provide Shutterfly with valuable retail mind-share. This is especially important as the last large-scale competitor, HP’s Snapfish, already prints to HP kiosks.
Another option is Snapfish itself, which is already integrated with HP photo-printing kiosks found in Walmart, Meijer and other retailers. A Snapfish-branded kiosk may have more photo cache than the current crop of blue HP kiosks.
Whatever happens, it's clear the change will make an impact on the photo kiosk market.
Read KioskMarketplace.com's feature on the Kodak collapse.