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Kodak Shifts Focus, Zooms In On Commercial Printing

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Kodak Shifts Focus, Zooms In On Commercial Printing

Business

Kodak Shifts Focus, Zooms In On Commercial Printing

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's go now from new technology to a classic brand trying to stay relevant. The American photography pioneer Kodak is also struggling just to survive. The company is being dogged by bankruptcy rumors; its stock has tumbled to less than a dollar. Kodak is still sounding optimistic, at least in public. It expects strong fourth quarter earnings.

Zack Seward from the Innovation Trail Reporting Project in upstate New York sent us this story from Kodak's hometown of Rochester.

ZACK SEWARD, BYLINE: Linda Nau is like a lot of native Rochesterians.

LINDA NAU: I grew up in a Kodak family. I have aunts, uncles, father, brother-in-law.

SEWARD: Nau herself even worked at Kodak. As a college kid in the late '60s, Nau was paid 10 bucks an hour for a summer job making sure film canisters didn't let in light. But now more than 40 years later, she's in a Rochester area Best Buy, helping her husband pick out a new camera. And Kodak is not part of the conversation.

NAU: Unfortunately no.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEWARD: Why?

NAU: Why? I don't think the quality of the Kodak cameras are as good as they used to be.

SEWARD: During holiday shopping season on Kodak's home turf, you might assume this is troubling news for the imaging giant. But according to Kodak, you'd be wrong.

ANTONIO PEREZ: We expect a very good fourth quarter.

SEWARD: That's Kodak CEO, Antonio Perez. Kodak wouldn't talk to us on tape for this story, but Perez spoke on the company's investor conference call last month, saying that things are looking up.

PEREZ: All four of our digital growth businesses will expand in the fourth quarter.

SEWARD: But none of those are camera businesses. Kodak even recently sold off its image-sensor division, reportedly for a couple hundred million dollars. Kodak has long been in the process of a painful transformation that's seen tens of thousands of Kodak workers in the Rochester area lose their jobs. But when Perez talks about the company's digital transformation and the new Kodak, he's talking about four growth businesses in particular - three of which serve the commercial printing industry.

PEREZ: They will be the nucleus of the new Kodak.

SEWARD: In short, Kodak is becoming a company that makes high-end printing equipment - not a consumer staple whose brand once rivaled Coca-Cola's in global ubiquity.

MARK KAUFMAN: That's fading away - by design.

SEWARD: Mark Kaufman is an analyst who follows Kodak for Rafferty Capital Markets. He's seen the company's stock plummet in the last year, driven by investor fears that Kodak is on its last legs. A recent move to tap a revolving credit line, the shuffling of key legal advisers and higher than expected losses have sunk Kodak shares to under a dollar. But Kaufman says there is some reason for optimism.

KAUFMAN: This is an important quarter because, well, they've actually started to make some inroads in getting the cash on the balance sheet.

SEWARD: Kaufman expects Kodak to finish up the year in relatively decent shape. An upcoming patent sale could net the company billions. Several of Kodak's massive $3 million printing presses are coming on-line in Asia. And once they're up and running they run exclusively on Kodak inks and print heads. Kaufman even says a seasonal surge in movie film and catalog printing creates an in-flow of cash.

KAUFMAN: If you really think about it, who the end users are - more businesses than individual consumers.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOICES)

NAU: But that's the one you recommend, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh yeah. I mean...

SEWARD: Which brings us back to Linda Nau at the Rochester area Best Buy. Of the four pillars of the new Kodak, only one - desktop inkjet printing - is consumer oriented. While Kodak digital cameras have been relegated to the Best Buy website because of poor sales, you can get a Kodak printer at the store. But Nau isn't buying. She already has a printer - made by Canon. But when she prints out photos at home, she does use Kodak paper.

NAU: I've got to try to keep some loyalty there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEWARD: For NPR News, I'm Zack Seward in Rochester, New York.

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