May 14, 2008

More on Polaroid Instant Film products

Filed under: Just one more thing... — Frank @ 5:54 pm

Polaroid’s recent announcement that the entire line of instant film products would be discontinued by the end of this year created a somewhat interesting chain of events that is rather telling of the relationship most businesses today have with their customers.

The day I wrote the original post on this subject, I ordered one box of Polaroid Type-55 positive/negative sheet film from the Polaroid online store. I had already learned through the grapevine that all the local retailers had sold out of all their inventory of Polaroid films within 24 hours of the announcement, so I didn’t even bother trying to find a box locally. The order process seemed to go smoothly, although the price was really steep. The total for one box of T-55 plus shipping came to over $92.00! I could have bought the same item a week earlier off the shelf at my local photo retailer for less than $60.00. The order page of the website showed a fairly large inventory available, so I thought I might as well get one last box of film at whatever price.

Several weeks elapsed after the order was placed and it finally occurred to me that I had not received the film, nor had I received any notice that it had been shipped. So I sent an e-mail inquiry to find out when I could expect to receive the film. After a few days, I received an e-mail response from Mr. Eduardo Rosales at Shoppolaroid.com. The complete text follows:

“I hate to inform you that your order, like many others, has been canceled due to inventory issues. We weren’t able to fulfill all of the orders that were placed. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at any time. Sorry about the inconvenience.”

So, it appears that there is demand in the market for Polaroid films after all. The fact is that, despite the reduced consumption by commercial photographers of Polaroid products across the board, it is entirely conceivable that certain films such as Type 55, Type 59, etc. could still be viable products, albeit at reduced volume from what Polaroid had been selling in years past. A few of these films occupy a unique place in the world of fine art imaging and can’t really be duplicated by “Photoshoping” images from a digital camera.

I believe that Polaroid has made a profit on every box of film they produced since the early nineteen fifties. Unfortunately that does not mean that the company as a whole has been profitable. They’ve lost tons of money on many other ventures having nothing to do with photography products, but that’s another story. It’s obvious here that Polaroid’s customers are far down the list of constituents that the company feels it needs to please in order to remain viable. The stockholders demand a double-digit return on their investment or they’ll sell their shares for whatever they can get and move the money elsewhere, ergo, the stockholder must be appeased.

So who gets hurt when a shareholder decides to dump their stock at a low price because they simply want to make more money than Polaroid currently returns to them? Does the company have to make up any difference between the selling price and the price the shareholder initially paid for the stock? NO! Does the new shareholder who buys the stock at the new, lower price loose anything? No. Does the company loose any operating revenue if a shareholder jumps ship and sells at a loss? No.

Only the remaining stockholders see a paper loss on the value of their holdings if the stock drops in price. Unfortunately, these days, some of the biggest shareholders are the CEO and other top officers and even board members who are paid, in large measure, based on the value of the stock, even more than on the profitability of the business. As we saw in the “tech bubble” of the nineties, many companies that made no profits and really had no tangible product to sell were paying their top officers millions each year based on the upward direction of their stock price—a price that was doomed to collapse once the public finally got wise to the fact that the entire business was a scam in the first place (can you spell Enron?).

It would be a great day if Polaroid would decide to spin off the instant film manufacturing into a subsidiary or an isolated division of the overall corporate empire. The company could then go off in whatever direction it wants, commercial real estate, sub-prime mortgages, consumer electronics, (it’s up to the elbows in all of these) etc., while the Instant Film Division could quietly continue to operate and generate some profits needed to offset some small portion of the losses generated by their other hair-brained schemes.

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