Hasselblad – a story of failure to cope with the digital shift

The Swedish camera company Hasselblad was at one point in the 20th Century, right up with Leica as one of the most prestigious names in analog cameras. When Neil Armstrong snapped his famous images of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon in 1969, he was using a Hasselblad camera.

Yet, by the end of the 2010s, Hasselblad was a shell of its former self, rendered almost bankrupt and downsized by a failure to incorporate digital technology into its product range.

Polaroid, another notable failure to adapt to digital technology, actually ignored its own R&D investment in digital technology in favor of the idea that people would always prefer hard copy prints – a board-level decision that damped down innovation and ultimately led to its demise.

Polaroid’s corporate culture preferred perfection to being first to market. This led to very long product cycles, which often missed market trends (PolarVision, an advanced analog video system, was introduced too late into a mature market), and the failure of late products made the company’s leadership very innovation-averse.

As a result, Polaroid ignored the early success of digital cameras, despite their limited resolution, because, in pure photographic quality terms, they were crappy compared to analog images at the time. Polaroid failed to see the greater utility of digital cameras. This failure to enter the consumer digital camera marketplace cost Polaroid dearly, as it was shut out of the consumer market and its core business, instant analog photography, was rapidly rendered obsolete by digital cameras, with their ability to unload or transmit images onto the internet.

The story of Hasselblad’s decline is not as straightforward. Although a much smaller company, Hasselblad made several serious attempts to enter digital markets, but did not gain sufficient traction. The accelerating decline in its analog sales eventually forced its sale to a hedge fund company, which was where the real trouble began, with the new board vetoing essential investment money to allow Hasselblad to continue to make headway in the new increasingly digital marketplace of modern camera technology. Hasselblad downsized and is now a fraction of its former size.

 

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