The new life of the photographic reel: anti-wrinkle creams and medicines
With a panorama in which it is increasingly difficult to sell a camera, it must be very difficult to call yourself Fujifilm, Fuji for friends. In the late 1980s they were among the first to launch a digital camera with a memory card instead of a reel (the Fuji DS-1P), so they lived, like other survivors such as Canon, Nikon or Olympus, the golden moments of photography (the first decade of the 2000s), but also the arrival of the smartphone and the consequent contraction of the market.
Others like Kodak or Polaroid stayed on the road and, although they continue to flirt, they are no longer the shadow of what they were. How is it possible that some companies fade and others remain profitable? In Fuji's case, paradoxically his salvation lies in the photographic film.
A "movie" story
Chronology of the main Fuji products from 1930 to 2015
In the 1930s Fuji came up with the idea of becoming the number one in film and X-ray film production in Japan. They decided to specialize in it and little by little they were also getting into the manufacture of photographic components (lenses, objectives) and cameras. The adventure in the world of printing came later, starting in the 1960s, with Xerox.
With the passage of time, Fuji ended up as one of the leading manufacturers of photographic film and cinema in the world (its main competition here was Kodak and Polaroid), they established themselves as a quality brand in cameras, but they diversified their business by entering areas such as medicine or industrial materials.
It is very curious to contemplate in the middle of 2016, on its 50th anniversary in Europe, how the business structure of Fuji remains, in which everything related to photography represents only 15% of its income. 46% comes from the documentation and office area (do you remember the adventure with Xerox?) And 38% from its industrial and scientific leg. In 2015, Fuji's consolidated revenue was more than € 22 billion.
Fuji's business structure today
Looking at this graphic, it seems clear that Fuji's "secret" to not end up as Kodak or Polaroid was to expand his business to other areas beyond photography.
It is a secret that he shares with Canon, whose business diversification is also clear and his income amounted to $ 31,407 million in 2015:
Percentage of sales by Canon business area in 2015 (Does not add 100% for other smaller areas)
Or with Nikon:
Percentage of sales by Nikon's business area so far in 2016
Also with Olympus:
Percentage of sales by business area at Olympus in 2015 Diversify or die: the key business decision for photographic companies
In other words, it is no "secret" that nowadays the companies that the general public knows as photographic are much more than that. And they are like that out of necessity, although in our case, that of Fuji, there is also a coincidence.
Since they specialized from the beginning in the photographic film, in its treatment, manufacture and emulsion, they ended up discovering other ways of business along the way. After 80 years of photographic film, they realized one thing: half of the film is made of collagen and the human dermis is 70% collagen. And with that very basic association, they decided to enter the cosmetics sector in 2007 with an anti-aging cream. They created the Astalift brand, which mixes everything learned in the management of collagen with microalgae with great antioxidant power (astaxanthin).
Obviously it wasn't all that easy, instead they had to spend years researching and testing the products. In fact, Astalift is not yet marketed in Europe because very strict quality and health permits are required in the cosmetic market, but, as Antonio Alcalá, CEO of Fujifilm Iberia told us, is being a success in Japan in the scope of luxury cosmetics.
From making photographic film to fighting cancer
Make creams antiaging It is perhaps the most extravagant of its activity as a company, but Fuji currently has seven lines of business and we can find its products in: urban advertising, water purification, printing plates (the container of your box of cookies or the newspaper that read is probably printed by a Fuji product), industrial products (to perform advanced endoscopies, for example), photography and data storage software, instant film, touch panels and a long etcetera.
Fuji sees great business potential in the pharmaceutical market
However, of the thousand faces of Fuji, perhaps the most striking is that related to innovation and health. Behind the avigan, a drug that has been proven effective against Ebola, is Fujifilm, and it grabbed more than one international newspaper cover when it became known. Fuji is also investing in Alzheimer's research and is already conducting oral medicine experiments against the clinical phase 3 disease in the United States and Japan.
Fuji is also developing anticancer agents and testing them in the United States in phase 1 with different patients and tumors (pancreas, lung).
Antonio Alcalá tells us that Fuji sees great business potential in the pharmaceutical market and that in the coming years we will see how the company is increasingly heading towards it. "It is a complicated market, but in the long run it can be very profitable and we will make people's lives better." The next steps, it seems, will go towards regenerative medicine, premature diagnosis and investment in hospital supplies and medicines.
Will Fuji abandon photography?
Fujifilm GFX 50S, the first digital medium format of the Japanese brand.
We were talking with Takaaki Kurose, Vice President of Fujifilm Europe, and considering all this diversification that we have discussed and that business is doing very well in those other areas, the question was almost necessary: will there come a time when Fuji stops side photography?
Kurose told us that the core of Fuji has always been photography and that they will never abandon it, but that, for this, they live in a process of constant reinvention. Antonio Alcalá here clarified that when the company launched what was considered the first digital camera, the Fuji DS-1P, "it went against our business of the reel, we were cannibalizing our own products, but it was the right thing to do to avoid falling behind the market".
On the other hand there is the question of mobile photography, one of the main reasons for the contraction of the conventional photographic market. If the user can access a smartphone with enough photo-taking capacity for his expectations, he will not feel the need to buy a camera. And with that premise, it is when we explain to Kurose the example of Huawei with Leica in the field of mobile photography, a joint adventure that may serve as inspiration for future agreements. Will Fuji get into mobile photography like Leica with Huawei? "We do not rule out anything, if we make sense of it, we will try," says the manager with a smile.
To diversify. Change face.