Should We Be Interested In 'Saving' Any Industry?

from the forward-or-backwards dept

We hear it all the time, whenever anyone talks about an industry being "destroyed" by new technologies: "how do we save x industry?" where "x" can stand for "recording" or "news" or "movies" or whatever. We saw it just recently when a professor wanted to "save" the newspaper industry by changing copyright law in ridiculous ways. It's also why we jokingly called our last event "Techdirt Saves* Journalism." The whole concept of "saving" an industry is so preposterous, which is why we wanted to mock it with the title of our event. I was reminded of this when reading this recap of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) event, where Dan Gillmor was quoted saying:
"I'm not even slightly interested in saving the industry."
And it got me thinking about understanding the mindset of "saving" an industry more deeply. The truth is, whenever anyone seriously (not mockingly) refers to "saving" an industry, invariably, they're really talking about saving a few legacy companies in that industry from whatever disruptive innovation is shaking things up. It's never actually about "saving an industry," because the "industry" almost never actually needs to be saved. The industry may be in the process of being changed (often radically), but that's not the same thing as needing saving.

What's telling is that, through all of this, you almost never hear start-ups talking about asking for help trying to "save the industry" that they're in. That's because they know "the industry" is just fine, and in all of the upheaval there's really tremendous opportunity. So, anytime anyone talks seriously about "saving" any particular industry, challenge them on what they really mean, and see if they're actually just talking about saving a few companies, rather than saving an actual "industry."

Filed Under: industry, progress, protectionism, saving


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  1. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 20 Aug 2010 @ 8:30am

    Re: Re:

    While I'm somewhat tempted to agree with you, let's have a look at the reasons for the bailouts of GM and Chrysler again.

    In GM's case it's fairly easy to tell or see what happened in the last 20 years. The quality of the end product went down the toilet, by and large, which meant that potential customers, both individuals and fleet buyers, looked twice before purchasing and often went elsewhere. They built and promoted the hell out of gas guzzlers which didn't hurt until the price of fuel went through the roof again and then it did. They were glacially slow in decision making and reacting to the market.

    Chrysler hasn't quite decided what it wants to be when it grows up. That's half it's problem there. It's had one "hit" in the last two decades, the PT Cruiser, and nothing else of note. Daimler's ownership was a bit of a disaster.

    Ford, on the other hand, from the late 90s till now aggressively addressed it's problems with quality, style, model selection and so on. Now it's turning a profit and you'd be hard pressed to find a better built or engineered vehicle.

    All had self-inflicted cost issues which they've addressed if not solved under government pressure finding the UAW and CAW much easier to deal with than they imagined on these issues. (Hint to employers. Open the books, don't plead poverty -- show it and the unions will react much more pleasantly than you think.)

    Parts suppliers also serve manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota, Volvo and other auto makers not normally seen as North American though they build here so if GM or Chrysler went down Ford would have survived nicely.

    That leads to this: don't confuse the auto industry in North America with The (no longer so) Big Three because it hasn't been that in quite some time. If they'd died, unlikely, the jobs would have appeared elsewhere as other manufacturers would have taken up the slack because their domestic markets would have grown.

    On a personal note, late last fall I bought a new pickup. The order I looked at them was Ford, Dodge, GM, Toyota, Honda. Honda dropped out almost immediately because I didn't like the look or practicality of the vehicle, Toyota was/is overpriced which left the Big Three. With GM I wasn't impressed with the Siverado's build and fit though I admit to looking at it with a jaundiced eye which left Ford and Dodge. All other things being equal, and they were, the decider was safety and one other thing -- which trucks were still out there on the road and being used as work trucks after, oh, say 30 years. More Fords than you can shake a stick at, a good representation of Dodges though nowhere near as many and you can't see a Chev or GMC out there much more than 20 years old more than likely 10. Ford got the deal on safety and the fact the I just liked the model I got more than any Dodges I saw.

    What I'm saying is that the automotive sector didn't need "saving" as much as GM and Chrysler did. If they'd gone belly up the market would have ensured that something took their place. More than likely Toyota, Honda, Ford and maybe Volvo, to name but 4 companies as well as, I suspect, a North American based company out of the ashes of GM and Chrysler.

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