Back on June 16, 2005, Eastman Kodak announced that it was "discontinuing" the production of its silver-based black and white printing paper. Kodak said it will stop production of the b&W paper at the end of this year. But the world’s biggest film manufacturer will continue to make black-and-white film and chemicals for processing. As the industry shifts rapidly from chemical-based to digital imaging, "demand for black-and-white paper is declining about 25 per cent annually and Kodak could no longer justify being in the market", Kodak spokesman David Lanzillo said.
Thus ends over a century of Kodak's production of black and white paper. Kodak’s original papers were made for “paper negatives” but for printing positives, they marketed a printing out paper (POP) that was used to make contact prints from larger negatives. Most missed by today’s fine-art printers will be some specialty papers, such as their Azo and Polycontrast Fine Art papers. The bulk of Kodak’s paper production is for the commercial photofinisher market, which uses little of no true b&w paper. However, as a practicing black and white photographer, I confess that I rarely use Kodak paper, instead buying papers made by Ilford and others.
Kodak's decision will undoubtedly convince some that the death-knell of film is upon us, and the death rattle of 35mm film cassettes can be heard in the shadows. I disagree. Kodak's problem is that they are trying to become the Digital Imaging Company the way they were the Film and Paper Company. Unfortunately, there are many competitors in this arena, and Kodak will be slugging it out with Fuji, Canon, HP, Kyocera, Nikon, Konica-Minolta, etc. Dumping their b&w paper production is probably not the big loss that some think it is -- Ilford, Forte, Kentmere and others will be afforded what market remains, and they will fill it in a manner more beneficial to photography enthusiasts. Here is what Kodak should think about doing -- spin off the silver-halide part of the company and call it Yellow-Box Classic or something, and have it become more of a niche company, catering to the Fine art and amateur world. Sure, very few commercial photographers are using b&w paper and film any more, but that does not mean there is no market.
The big unanswered question here is -- what will Kodak do next? There will always be a market for silver-based photography. Whether the product has Kodak's name on the box or Lucky Film from China remains to be seen.