As you will have seem from multiple film photography websites Fujifilm has announced a significant price hike on most of their remaining film photography related products. Film prices are expected to rise by a minimum of 30% and photographic paper prices by ‘a double-digit percentage’. Only the Instax range appears to be unaffected by the price rises. Fujifilm’s justification for the increases is that rising costs of materials and logistics has outstripped Fujifilm’s capacity to reduce production costs. Now though ‘as a responsible manufacturing company and to provide the high-quality products our customers expect, the company will institute a price increase.’
What to make of this? In recent years Fujifilm’s commitment to film photography (other than the Instax brand) has seemed less than wholehearted with production of motion picture film being terminated completely in 2013 and many well known still films having been discontinued, most recently Fujifilm’s only remaining black and white film, Neopan Acros 100, in 2018. Fujifilm’s global website currently lists only six films, three negative and three reversal, in the company’s film range.
Nor is this the first time Fujifilm has announced a sizable price increase. Similar double digit percentage increases were announced in July 2015 and January 2016. The January 2016 announcement offered a similar rationale for the price increase to the most recent one:
The demand for film products is continuously decreasing and the cost of production, such as raw materials stays at a high level and cost increase associated with lower volumes becomes much serious. Under such circumstances, despite our effort to maintain the production cost, Fujifilm is unable to absorb these costs during the production process and is forced to pass on price increases.
Clearly, this makes a lot of sense. The demand for film, despite the resurgence of interest in film photography in recent years, is tiny compared to the level of demand in the pre-digital era. I would imagine that the return on film is insufficient to justify expensive outlay on plant and manufacturing facilities which, as they age, almost certainly become more expensive to maintain. Presumably the price increases in 2015 and 2016 eased the financial pressure since I’m not aware of any significant price increases between then and now.
So what is Fujifilm’s thinking? Are they being responsible and realistic in their assessment of the costs associated with film, trusting that film photographers will understand and accept that in order to guarantee future film supplies they most pay more? Are they anticipating that Kodak, their only realistic competitor in the colour film market, are in the same situation and will have to follow suit and increase their prices also? Are they planning to get out of the film market entirely and trying to squeeze every penny out of the last of their film production?
I couldn’t help noticing that the 2016 announcement stated that ‘Fujifilm remains committed to photographic products despite its price change’ whereas the 2019 announcement simply states that ‘Fujifilm will continue to study the market demand, and make adjustments to product assortment as dictated by our customers and market conditions.’ To me, that sounds a lot less committed. On the other hand, Fujifilm recently launched a website, I Shoot Fujifilm, for film photographers which would seem to imply a continuing dedication to film. (Though I did notice that the website is the product of Fujifilm North America and it’s entirely possible that Fujifilm North America is not privvy to the parent company’s long term plans for film.)
As for Kodak, while they have relaunched a number of previously discontinued films in recent times, the company’s future seems unclear judging from the report that emerged recently regarding Kodak Alaris’s attempts to sell off its Paper Photochemicals and Film (PPF) business. If it fails to find a buyer the business will eventually end up in the hands of the UK Government via the UK’s Pension Protection Fund. In the report, however, the CEO of Kodak Alaris claimed that the sale of the PPF business was at an ‘advanced stage of negotiations with a potential buyers’ (sic). Unfortunately that typo ,which is in the source article, leaves it unclear whether there is one potential buyer or many. If it is indeed ‘buyers’ it is curious since it’s hard to think of any other business beyond Eastman Kodak that might be interested in taking over.
These kind of stories together with the recently reported events at Tetenal are worrying, but in our enthusiasm for film photography and in the midst of what can seem to be a significant revival of interest it is good to be reminded that in reality film photography is clinging on and there are huge challenges to be overcome if it is to be sustainable in the long term. If these challenges are not overcome then the film renaissance may turn out to be nothing more than the last hurrah.