40 years ago, when I was in college, a campus group invited a vice-president of Rich's Department Store, then the largest retailer in Atlanta, to give a presentation. He made a statement that I have never forgotten. He said that companies are not in business to support their customer's needs. Instead, companies are in business to make money. Supporting their customer's needs is HOW they make money.
Thanks to digital technology, the market for photographic materials is shrinking. That's a fact. But the expectations of Wall Street are moving in exactly the opposite direction. The executives who manage Kodak know that to keep their jobs, they have to increase both share price and earnings per share.
It is a fact that a business the size of Kodak can't meet the expectations of their shareholders by engaging in a series of small, niche markets, even if those market segments are lucrative. Because they are large, they have to engage in businesses that are commensurately large.
I agree that it would be nice if Kodak could maintain a few boutique lines to satisfy traditional market segments. But the reality is that attempting to do that would distract corporate management from what they need to be focusing on - making the larger, growing businesses successful. Furthermore, those boutique lines would have to compete internally for investment and development money - and the fact is that they won't win those internal competitions. And if the investments aren't being made, then the product quality will deteriorate - and that doesn't meet customer needs.
So the reality is that for a company like Kodak, exiting the black and white paper business makes a lot of sense. It also makes a lot of sense for the industry because with one less player in the field, the market share of the other guys will increase. And if those other guys (Ilford, Kentmere, Forte, et al) are scaled to match the niche size of the black and white paper market, they stand a far better chance of survival than does a giant like Kodak. The statements made by the recently-restructured (and downsized) Ilford suggest that they are developing their business plans around the concept of competing in a shrinking market. Furthermore, because they are more appropriately scaled to the markets they are serving, they will be in a better position to support the product requirements of their customer base.
I see only two negative aspects of this news. The first is that it adds to the doom and gloom attitude that seems to prevail among traditional black and white photographers. That's unfortunate, because black and white photography should provide an emotional uplift, not funereal depression. Second, the only black and white printing product where Kodak retains market leadership is Azo, and this news may meand that we can look forward to a disruption in the supply of that excellent product.