BOSTON Polaroid Corp. is dropping the technology it pioneered long before digital photography rendered instant film obsolete to all but a few nostalgia buffs.
Polaroid is closing factories in Massachusetts, Mexico and the Netherlands and cutting 450 jobs as the brand synonymous with instant images focuses on ventures such as a portable printer for images from cell phones and Polaroid-branded digital cameras, televisions and DVD players.
This year's closures will leave Polaroid with 150 employees at its Concord headquarters and a site in the nearby Boston suburb of Waltham, down from peak global employment of nearly 21,000 in 1978.
The company stopped making instant cameras over the past two years.
"We're trying to reinvent Polaroid so it lives on for the next 30 to 40 years," Tom Beaudoin, Polaroid's president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer, said in a phone interview Friday after the company's plans were reported in The Boston Globe.
Polaroid failed to embrace the digital technology that has transformed photography, instead sticking to its belief that many photographers who didn't want to wait to get pictures developed would hold onto their old Polaroid cameras.
Global sales of traditional camera film have been dropping about 25 percent to 30 percent per year, "and I've got to believe instant film has been falling as fast if not faster," said Ed Lee, a digital photography analyst at the research firm InfoTrends Inc.
"At some point in time, it had to reach the point where it was going to be uneconomical to keep producing instant film," Lee said.
Privately held Polaroid doesn't disclose financial details about its instant film business.
Polaroid instant film will be available in stores through next year, the company said after which, Lee said, Japan's Fujifilm will be the only major maker of instant film.
Polaroid got its start making polarized sunglasses in the 1930s, and introduced its first instant camera in 1948. Film packs contained the chemicals for developing images inside the camera, and photos emerged from the camera in less than a minute.
Polaroid's overall revenue from instant cameras, film and other products peaked in 1991 at nearly $3 billion. The company went into bankruptcy in 2001 and was bought four years later for $426 million by Minnetonka, Minn.-based consumer products company Petters Group Worldwide.
Polaroid's newly announced job cuts include 150 positions to be eliminated over the next couple months at Massachusetts operations in Norwood and Waltham, which make large-format films for technical and industrial photography. Later this year, Polaroid will close plants employing 300 workers in the Mexican state of Queretaro and in Enschede, Netherlands.
Meanwhile, Polaroid is seeking a partner to acquire licensing rights for its instant film, in hopes that another firm will continue making the film to supply Polaroid enthusiasts.
As it seeks to gain a foothold in digital photography this year, Polaroid plans to sell an 8-ounce photo printer slightly bigger than a deck of cards that requires no ink and prints business card-sized pictures. It uses thermal printing technology from Zink Imaging Inc., founded by private investors who bought technologies from Polaroid as it was coming out of bankruptcy.
Polaroid also has its brand name on foreign-made TVs, DVD players, digital photo frames, cameras and MP3 music players. Those products generated nearly $1 billion in revenue last year for Polaroid's parent firm, Beaudoin said.