Olympus is in discussions with technology company Japan Industrial Partners, Inc. (JIP) about the potential transfer of Olympus’ imaging business to JIP by the end of 2020.

The move comes against a background of contracting global sales of cameras, partly due to the erosion of the low end of the market by smartphones but also as a result of shutdowns caused by the COVID19 pandemic. Olympus has market-leading products in the enthusiast and professional market sectors, with its interchangeable-lens cameras and lenses rating high in Photo Review’s tests and the Tough TG-6 is widely seen as the best underwater camera on the market. Although Olympus has improved the cost structure by restructuring the manufacturing bases and focusing on high-value-added interchangeable lenses, the Imaging business has recorded operating losses for three consecutive fiscal years up to the end of March 2020. A statement released by the company says:
Under such circumstances, Olympus considers that, by carving-out the Imaging business and by operating the business with JIP, the Imaging business’s corporate structure may become more compact, efficient and agile and it is the most appropriate way to realize its self-sustainable and continuous growth and to bring values to the users of our products as well as our employees working in the Imaging business.

Olympus therefore has decided to sign the memorandum of understanding for the Transaction.  JIP has strong track records in supporting strategic carve-outs that realize growth potential and encourage autonomous growth. By adding support from JIP, the NewCo, as the successor of reputable brands such as “OM-D” and “ZUIKO,” will utilize the innovative technology and unique product development capabilities which have been developed within Olympus, and will realize continuous growth of the business by bringing better products and services to the users and customers and by making itself a productive and rewarding work place for its employees.

The full company statement can be read here.

Prior to closing the deal, Olympus has revealed plans to ‘implement structuring reforms to the imaging business’ with the aim of making it ‘more profitable and sustainable’. In the interim, it will be business as usual as far as our readers are concerned. A statement from the Olympus Australia office says:

During the ongoing discussions, Olympus Imaging will operate with business as usual. Our Sales, Admin Support, Customer Service and Marketing departments will continue to work on innovative initiatives for our customers and ambassadors while remaining committed to the launch of new products as planned. We are focused on the ongoing success of the Olympus Imaging business and grateful to our customers for their loyalty and support for our products, and their passion for photography.

Readers should note that this deal has not yet been finalised, although Olympus and JIP are hoping to sign an agreement by the end of September. What will happen once the assets are transferred is anyone’s guess, although JIP has a history of ‘carve-outs’ having taken over Sony’s VAIO laptop brand some time ago. VAIO laptops are still sold in many markets and Sony has retained a 5% share in the business. While it’s too early to speculate on what will happen should the deal be finalised, Olympus may retain some ownership but product distribution may be focused upon areas in which sales have been stronger, such as Japan, Australia and other parts of Asia than they have been in places like North America.

We’ll keep you posted on further developments.