Kodak is moving into blockchain, with two new products announced at the CES show in Las Vegas. Is It jumping on a bandwagon, or is it onto something?
1912: The economist Alfred Marshall, draws up a list of the world’s biggest 100 companies, companies so mighty, that Marshall likedened them to Californian Redwoods – not immortal as such, but sure to enjoy extreme longevity.
1995: The economist Leslie Hannah, draws up a new list, of that original 100, 19 were still in the top 100, 28 had survived and were larger – after allowing for inflation - 29 had experienced bankruptcy or similar and 48 had disappeared.
One company that had made it, one company that had been in the top 100 in 1912 and 1995 was Eastman Kodak.
Yet, just one and a half decades later it was bust.
Of course, bust does not mean no more – and Kodak is still alive and kicking today, underneath the leadership of Jeff Clarke, a man steeped in Silicon Valley credentials, Kodak has been fighting to keep itself relevant in the 20 teens and beyond.
And now it has revealed two forays into the blockchain arena.
Foray number one is KodakCoin – a blockchain product designed to help photographers control image rights. Foray number two is KashMiner, a kind of bitcoin mining as a service product.
The idea behind KodakCoin is to apply a distributed ledger to having a record of where each copy of a digital image resides. If someone has used an image, without permission, then the license holder knows.
The idea behind KashMiner is to allow third parties to rent out Kodak processing muscle to mine bitcoins.
Shares in the company soared on the news.
To some its smacks of déjà vu. During the heyday of the dotcom boom, some companies changed their name, adding com, to their company title, and shares surged, until common sense was restored and the market crashed.
We have already seen other companies apply this idea in the blockchain area – Long Island Ice Tea Corp, for example, changed its name to Long Blockchain Corp.
But then again, Kodak is at least trying to play to its strengths.
It’s a photography company – the protection of image rights is a big issue, looking at whether blockchain is a potential fix is a worthy cause, it may not work, but it is worth investigating.
As for KashMiner, the company is making use of its on-site power generating plant – a leftover from its days as a mighty company. So what the company is really trying to do is make use of underutilised capacity.
If bitcoins crash, then it will hardly be a disaster for Kodak.
Sentiment is a funny thing, however. If there was a bitcoin crash, all kinds of companies may get caught up in the selling frenzy.
It is always interesting to speculate on what Kodak could have done to avoid its spectacular failure of half a decade ago. What could it have done differently?
After-all, the company was a pioneer in digital photography, so it was not like it was ignorant of the digital revolution that had such a catastrophic effect on the company.
Maybe Kodak should have foreseen its ultimate demise, and just focused on cashing in while it could, selling-out, giving the proceeds to shareholders.
Looking back with hindsight we can say Kodak should have got into the accelerator and incubator game, looked at ways to support start-ups in its space. But it took the demise of Kodak, before large corporates really woke up to doing things that way.