When we talk about the economics of industries that are in transition, such as the newspaper industry or the entertainment industry, we often point out the need to adopt new business models that embrace the economic realities those industries face. Regularly, supporters of those industries respond that it's folly to jump to a new "unproven" business model without real proof that the new business model will succeed -- especially when the old business model is still going strong. There's this belief that the companies in those industries can just hang on while everyone else experiments, and when a new business model is clear, they can comfortably make the switch and everything will be fine. And, it is true, that even disintermediated businesses have a history of sticking around and throwing off cash for a long time after the disruptive technology disintegrates their foundations.
Yet, as this article in The Atlantic points out with regard to the newspaper industry, when "the end" comes, it comes amazingly fast
. It is true that old industries can hang on for a while, but they reach a sort of tipping point where suddenly everyone realizes that the emperor has no clothes. And, at that point, there really isn't any time to make the necessary shift to the new business model. Instead, there's just bankruptcy. So, sure, the record labels and the newspapers can wait it out and hang on until there's "proof" that some new business model makes sense. But, by the time that proof is there, their old business might not be.