When Dwayne’s Photo, a film processor located in Parsons, Kansas developed the last roll of Kodachrome film on December 30, 2010, it marked the end of an eighty-five year old era. The event initiate a torrent of commentary that consisted mostly of nostalgic reminiscing and lamenting. Such accounts have identified the obsolescence of Kodachrome as ranging from the death of photography to the devaluation of the photos that digital cameras produce.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Kodachrome film. Heck, in 2007 I produced a story about it called Kodachrome Memories on my podcast Griddlecakes Radio in 2007. But I find the hand-wringing and gnashing-of-teeth over the event dumbfounding.
Loss Comes with Opportunity
Kodachrome is a medium. Period. It’s one of many technologies that humans have developed over the years to capture still images. Like all mediums, Kodachrome has unique traits and those traits determine its value. As long any medium’s value remains in line with its associated costs, the medium will survive.
But recent advances in read-write technologies have altered the cost-to-benefit ratio of read-only mediums like Kodachrome. Consumable resources like photographic film must be purchased over and over again. They are expensive to manufacture, distribute, purchase and ultimately process. And, in a begrudging nod to my good friend Mike Kilroy over at the Green Asteroid blog, the chemicals used to manufacture and process film probably aren’t the best for the environment either.
Now, compare and contrast the economics of consumable film to recent advances in read-write, reusable digital photography. During the past few years, advances in digital cameras, storage, and pixel manipulation software have created more choices for people who want to capture images. These advances have not only lowered the barrier to entry costs, but have eliminated the recurring costs that have provided a constant stream of business for companies like Kodak, Fuji Film, Agfa and Ilford.
But the cost savings don’t stop at the actual medium. Digital photographs are cheaper to distribute to end-audiences. Whether we are uploading them onto our favorite photo sharing services like Flickr, publishing them onto our Facebook wall, or printing them directly onto Grandma’s internet-enabled printer, the cost of delivering photographs has almost been eliminated.
Whether we like it or not, communications technologies are advancing. The only thing that we have control over is how we react to the changes. But in this case, lamenting the loss Kodachrome film is like pining for the Pony Express, the telegraph, the IBM Selectric Typewriter, 8mm movie film, Betamax, VHS, vinyl records, and 8-track tapes.
How will You React?
Kodachrome film is analogous to your job as a professional communicator. If you are a publisher, a journalist, an advertiser, a marketing professional, a public relations professional, or a photographer, ask yourself one question:
What advances in communications technology are making my job obsolete?
Only an honest answer and a willingness to change will save you from extinction.
Photo Credit: Roadsidepictures