What happened: Following a 2010 reorganization, Polaroid has remade itself. But it is a shell of the company that employed more than 20,000 people and had $3 billion in annual sales in the early 1980s, a little more than three decades after it launched the first – and dominant – instant camera.
And Polaroid seemed to be poised for continued success, jumping into digital photography early on – in 1989, 42 percent of its research and development budget was earmarked for digital photography. Despite its head start, Polaroid was quickly losing film sales, as well as customers in real estate and other key markets.
What went wrong?
Polaroid’s early thesis – a thesis it held onto for far too long – was that customers would always want hard copies of their photos. "As electronic imaging becomes more prevalent, there remains a basic human need for a permanent visual record," CEO I. MacAllister Booth wrote in his 1985 letter to shareholders.
Polaroid held onto that thesis through the 1990s. "People were betting on hard copy and media that was going to be pick-up-able, visible, seeable, touchable, as a photograph would be," Gary DiCamillo, Polaroid CEO from 1995 to 2001, said in a 2008 interview at Yale.