This is why Fujifilm and AgfaPhoto stops making film despite the fact that demand is higher than ever

March 11, 2018

After more than a decade in which film sales did nothing but fall and against all odds, the figures went through a stabilization phase that was later on growing, to the point where companies like Kodak, the giant that of analogical photography -and that that cost him the bankruptcy and his near death during those bad years- returned to show interest in making analog film, announcing the return of Ektachrome, the mythical slide whose low sales in 2012 forced to the American giant to get it out of the catalog.

But they were not the only ones. Other smaller companies also moved token to take advantage of this new pull that haunted a market that seemed never going to resuscitate. Ferrania, the company that during the 20th century was better known as the "Italian Kodak", also wanted to resurface by making nothing more and nothing less than a slide film, and they were asking for money for this through a crowdfunding campaign. Said and done. Currently the company has already produced the first of its black and white emulsions as they develop the promised slide - a task more complex than it seems. Also ADOX, a European company that survived manufacturing chemicals for development, announced at that time that they had acquired an emulsifying machine, and now they already produce black and white film with good results.

That's when the big question arises: why a brand like Fujifilm, Kodak's main competitor in his golden age, does not stop announcing the phasing out of analog emulsions? The answer is simple: Fujifilm did know how to reinvent himself.

When the so-called "film crisis" began, back in 2006, brands realized that, if they wanted to survive, they had to look for business alternatives away from the simple manufacture and sale of analogue rolls. It was then when Fujifilm, without leaving of side at any moment the analogical film, bet by the manufacture of digital cameras, so much réflex as compact, as well as other routes of business as the sector of the industrial impressesion and even of sanitary machinery, reaching be a reference in these sectors. Fujifilm's sales never dropped and there were never any significant ups and downs in its turnover figures, unlike what happened to Kodak.

Kodak did't know how to redirect the ship. Although they were the main developers and researchers of digital photography at the end of the 20th century, they could not see that it would find the solution to their problems, and announced that they would stop making digital cameras at a time when the sale of these devices didn't stop growing. The company survived as it could by launching itself above all to the development of document digitization devices and their respective software and the development of industrial printing material, as Fujifilm did, and kept much of its catalog of analog emulsions taking advantage of the marginal market that continued to demand them. Kodachrome and Ektachrome were left on the road, making the company historically pioneer in launching slide to the world no longer had any reference of this type for sale.

But how do you explain that Fujifilm has maintained its catalog of analog films almost intact during all these years and now, in the optimistic moment we live, decide to stop manufacturing? We return to the same point: Fujifilm did know how to reinvent itself and today, although the sales of analog products are good, they do not represent more than 3% of their sales. Making film requires an infrastructure and an apotheosis human team that, for the sales it has - although we insist that they are better now - does not produce results favorable enough to keep it active, knowing that they have other sources of income with much profit margins. more extensive and that they represent a really high percentage of their annual income.

That 3% of the sales of material for chemical photography may seem significant, but taking into account the total turnover of a company like Fujifilm we are talking about millions of euros. Millions of euros that, although for Fujifilm are marginal, for Kodak and many other companies can be their method of sustenance and survival.

Now comes another, even more vital question, why now? Why did not they stop making film before, if the business had already been successfully transferred to another type of business? Why just when it starts to resurface? It is at this point that we have to ignore the gossips that say that this is not a recent decision. Apparently Fujifilm decided to stop making analogue material years ago. Some say that about a decade ago. What certain sources say - some quite reliable - is that the Japanese giant took advantage of the last years when its film factories were in full swing to mass-produce rolls and industrial rolls of each type of emulsion so that these were kept frozen during years and, progressively and depending on the demand, they only had to worry about cutting and packaging them in different formats. An intelligent way to eliminate the most cumbersome part of the process - the emulsified one - while ensuring that they can continue to sell that type of product for many more years.

That's when we see that it has logic. It is not that they have left the ship now, it is now, when the demand is greater, when they have run out of reserves quickly, and they can no longer sell a material that they no longer have. The emulsioning factories probably have been dismantled for years - it is rumored that in 2013 Ferrania was already in talks with Fuji to acquire the machinery of one of them - and those freezers where they kept what little they had are emptied at a speed according to the great demand that You are receiving this type of product.

Fotografías interiores de una fábrica de Fujifilm en Europa, puesta a la venta hace algunos años.

It is not that it is not profitable to manufacture film. It is a profitable business but not enough for a company that has other even more profitable fronts. A nuisance that leaves few joys but that for other small businesses can mean being able to invoice figures of six zeros annually, which is not a trifle.

That is why the news that no emulsion is made does not indicate that the demand is going down. Unlike. It indicates that the demand is so high that these last reserves that were manufactured are being depleted.

This week we knew the news that AgfaPhoto would also stop making the film Vista 200 and 400. There is no reason for concern, behind the manufacture of these rolls was Fujifilm. Now it only remains to know who will take the baton to meet the demand, but there is not much doubt that the wind blows in Kodak's favor that it could, sooner rather than later, win the battle to Fuji and be crowned, almost a century after Start your pulse, as the company that covers almost the entire traditional film market.


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