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Olympus: Selling the Imaging Division Doesn’t Mean ‘Withdrawing’ from Imaging Business

In an interesting interview with DPReview published early this morning, Olympus VP of Global Strategy Setsuya Kataoka tried to shed more light on what the sale of the Imaging Division means for users of Olympus cameras and lenses moving forward.

As you might imagine, the interview’s primary focus was the future of Olympus camera gear after the recent announcement that the Imaging Division would be sold off to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP). However, while Mr. Kataoka’s responses were no doubt meant to reassure users that the company’s cameras and lenses—if not the brand name on them—are in no danger of disappearing from the market, he may have inadvertently sown more confusion.

You can read the full interview at this link, but the “first and foremost” message that Mr. Kataoka wanted to send can be found in his answer to the very first question. In response to the question, “What immediate impact will there be from the sale of the Imaging Division?” Mr. Kataoka replied [emphasis added]:

First, I would like to stress that the sale of the Imaging Division does not mean that we will withdraw from the imaging business. We will continue to offer unique and exciting products. Of course there will be some changes in management, and transformation of the organizational structure after the transfer, but these changes are to stabilize the business and strengthen the organization and our operations. We think the transfer of the Imaging Division will have a positive effect on our imaging business.

Based on our current timeline, if everything goes smoothly, we’ll have a Definitive Agreement in place in September, and the new company will be established in January 2021.

Photo by Stanley Young, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This timeline tracks with the current rumors, which claim that the Olympus brand name will disappear from OM-D cameras and Zuiko lenses starting in 2021. From that point on, you’ll be buying an OM-D camera the same way you can now purchase a VAIO laptop absent the Sony brand name. Mr. Kataoka repeatedly refers to JIP as a “partner” in this process, and reassures users that the purpose of the investment fund is to, “revitalize and grow businesses by supporting long-term business management.”

We won’t know what this means in practice until the sale actually goes through and JIP begins to make real-world production and marketing decisions, but Mr. Kataoka revealed that the new owners plan to “focus on the high-end market more than ever,” and that “we will continue to develop the Micro Four Thirds system.”

To dive into all of these details and much, much more, head over to DPReview and read the full interview.

For our part, it’s hard to judge whether Mr. Kataoka’s responses fall under the category of “aspirational marketing speak” meant to prevent users from selling off their Olympus gear en masse, jeopardizing the sale, or if the future of OM-D, PEN, and Zuiko gear really will be “brighter” after the sale than before. Feel free to argue it out in the comments, but in truth, we won’t know for sure until JIP takes the reins in 2021.

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