Thom Hogan has just published his always entertaining Predictions for 2009. If you're not an enthusiast of reading about, and speculating about, the photo industry, the article will quickly make your head swim, but if your interests lean in that direction it's very interesting and thought-provoking.
I do think it's rather unfair of Thom to predict various specific companies' demise, though, as such rumors can be hurtful, especially in this volatile climate. But then, that's his business, and none of mine.
Recommended. It's a longish and dense article, and ought to be perused and not browsed, so reserve a little quality time for reading.
Featured Comment by Philip Storry: "It may be brand loyalty, so I disclaim that I'm an Olympus weenie first up. I find it hard to take seriously the predictions of someone who thinks Olympus is, to quote, 'a camera only company.' (From the article: 'What I think we're witnessing is the beginning of the end of the camera-only companies with the possible exception of Nikon and Olympus, both of whom are too dependent upon cameras to give in.')
"I just checked Olympus' half-year financial results [WARNING: PDF download]. In the half year to September 30th, Olympus had an income of 140,287 million Yen from digital cameras and related areas.
"They also had an income of 206,450 million Yen from their Medical division (endoscopes etc.), 61,594 million Yen from 'Life Science' (microscopes, blood analyzers), 92,997 million Yen from 'Information & Communication' (I'm guessing that's the little dictaphones they make?) and 34,462 million Yen from 'Other' (?).
"That's a total of 395,503 million Yen from non-Camera activities.
"And a total revenue, worldwide, of 535,790 million Yen. Of which 26% (rounding down) was digital cameras.
"Basically, Olympus are—like everyone—experiencing a halt to growth. Those financial results show that the camera division is experiencing more problems than others, as we'd expect in this market. But because the bulk of their products are sold in healthcare—a more stable market—the company is better positioned than many other camera manufacturers. They could afford to put cameras 'on hold' if they wanted to, and just come back to them later when things improve. Or they could let the rest of the company prop up the camera division. Fairly easily, too, if I read their accounts correctly.
"All of this isn't to say that Thom doesn't have some interesting points about Four Thirds, the relationship Olympus has with Panasonic, and the issue of Sanyo being bought. But the idea that Olympus are cameras only is ridiculous, and a modicum of research shows that.
"Panasonic may yet acquire Olympus—if they do, it'll be for their optical experience, especially with that medical background where colour rendition can mean the difference between a good diagnosis or a bad one. Panasonic have the Leica name licensed, but probably dream of selling Olympus-built optics with a little red 'mark up' dot on them. (And who wouldn't dream of that?)
"But Olympus look to be able to survive on their own quite well on their current business, precisely because they aren't just a camera company. I'd hope Thom's just blinkered by the fact that he's a camera guy and didn't think to check Olympus's financial reports or business. But as I said, I find it difficult to take seriously any predictions which have such obvious flaws in the bedrock of their analysis.
"Olympus are vulnerable, yes. But nowhere near as vulnerable as Nikon or Pentax, as far as I can see.
"Then again, before I wrote that I did as much research into Pentax and Nikon's company financials as Thom has into Olympus's. So now the Nikon and Pentax weenies can roast me, and deservedly so... ;-) "