This morning, I bought a tiny (credit-card sized) digital camera for less than $300 from that American institution, Walmart. I then went to class and listened to a two-hour discussion over the war between Kodak and Polaroid over the instant camera market during the late 70's. At the time, Wall Street, and those companies, saw instant photography as the wave of the future. The business lessons may still apply, but the value of that prize seems to decrease every day. Last year, digital cameras outsold film for the first time in the United States. They're now dominant at every level of consumer photography except disposable cameras (and they're in that market, too).
Amazingly enough, Polaroid's home page would make you think there's no such thing. I guess they've decided that there is going to continue to be a market for expensive instant film cameras, even when for a cheaper per-print price consumers can buy a digital camera and 4x6" photo printer with greater versatility and function. Kodak, conversely, having lost the war to Polaroid, at least readily acknowledges on their web site that film is on the way out as a consumer product. It's obvious to me that the film manufacturers have been left ending the short end of the stick in terms of the consumer imaging market. I'm not sure the camera manufacturers are much better off, considering that they now have to compete with an array of consumer electronics players. As early as 1993 it was obvious to anyone using digital cameras (and there were very good ones available then, albeit expensive) that the industry was about to change. What could they have done? (A secondary question: Will our kids have any idea what "shake it like a polaroid picture" means?")