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
    Richard (profile), 20 Aug 2010 @ 8:47am

    Re: Railways?

    You need to distinguish between saving an industry and saving the functionality that an industry provided.

    The car replaced some of the functionality of the horse - but not all - my family has three cars -and one horse.

    Part of the functionality of the horse was not utilitarian transport but the pleasure of riding (or so the female half of my family tell me).

    Part of the functionality of the railway was replaced by the car - but not all. Railways are faster than cars over long distances, more comfortable for the traveller, and occupy a smaller footprint in urban areas. Modern cities cannot function without urban rail transport - and so it has to be provided by the state/city - since it is a natural monopoly.

    Note however that the thing we save is the indispensable functionality - not the "industry".

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