Film still represents a sizable portion of Kodak's finances. For the first three quarters of 2008, Kodak's film, photofinishing and entertainment group had $2.3 billion in sales, representing roughly a third of its overall sales and more than the $2.1 billion its consumer digital imaging group took in. But consumer digital imaging is growing, with its net sales up 13 percent from the first nine months of 2007, while the film, photofinishing and entertainment group sales were down 15 percent from the first nine months of 2007.
Most of that decline in the film group is due to the decline in film capture and traditional photofinishing. And Kodak - which is in the midst of letting go of most of its North Carolina-based photofinishing subsidiary Qualex Inc. - has plenty of company in the legions of businesses feeling the pinch of camera film's decline.
The United States arm of competitor Fujifilm did not return calls seeking comment. But according to financial filings, the Japanese-based film giant saw its film business down 34 percent year over year for the first half of its 2009 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. The company chalked that decline up to the shrinking global market for camera film and said that in response it has been closing and consolidating photofinishing labs in Europe and North America.
Polaroid Corp. announced in 2008 it was ending its instant film manufacturing. According to Polaroid, its film products will be available on shelves until, at the latest, fall 2009.
And last month drug store chain Rite Aid Corp., in announcing its third-quarter 2009 earnings, said its photo developing business was hurting from a continuing decline in one-hour photo developing. Rite Aid, the dominant drug store chain in the Rochester area, signed an exclusive deal with Fujifilm in 2008, with Rite Aids now offering only Fujifilm photos products and services.
The $64,000 question, of course, is how much life film has left.
At Rochester Institute of Technology's School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, a fairly large percentage of faculty have not talked film in years, said Chairman Andrew Davidhazy.
Kodak in 2005 estimated that, given the rapid decline of its film and photo paper business, its manufacturing equipment had at most a useful lifespan of three to five years, while its buildings had a lifespan of five to 20 years. In early 2008, the company revised some of those estimates, and now expects that buildings and equipment which were to fully depreciate by mid-2010 now will have useful lives through 2011 to 2015.
The area's dominant grocery chain, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., in 2008 shuttered its Henrietta photo lab and the photo departments at 62 stores as its digital print and photo product ordering were not growing quickly enough to offset the loss of business from traditional film sales and processing.
Local technology retail chain Rowe Photographic, Video & Audio still has its Greece photo developing lab but earlier this year shut down its E6 slide processing service because of low volume.
"I see film as a nonissue, pretty much," owner Richard Rowe said. "The prices continue to escalate. At a certain point in time, even the purists are going to say this is way too much of an investment."
On local store shelves, a single roll of Kodak-brand consumer camera film often retails for $5 to $6.
"Unless there is a resurgence in traditional photography, which might be very much a niche market," Rowe said, "I see this probably winding down in the next two years."