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 @ 8:49am

    Re: Steel

    "Much of the demand has shifted to overseas maekets where workers are willing to work fo less pay leading to cheaper steel."

    Surely you mean must of the _supply_ has shifted, right?

    By and large it had nothing whatever to do with the workers that markets moved off shore as much as it did with the reality that steel makers in North America never reinvested in their businesses to update and modernize plants something the Japanese did and still do. Chinese plants are brand spanking new with all the bells and whistles. Same for plants in India.

    I have to admit I get tired of workers getting the blame for this and that (code for unions, far too often) while mostly it was aging plants and a lack of innovation from the companies themselves rather than overpaid or lazy workers. Both union and non union plants in North America have gone down so "workers" hasn't been the problem. Cost per unit because of old, outdated plants was much more the problem.

    The companies that still make steel in North America, and there are more than a few of them, are the ones who reinvested in plants, became nimble and able to shift product production in specialty products at the relative "blink of an eye". There's actually no one better at that kind of thing as Americans and Canadians, the border doesn't really exist for steel any more than it does for automotive products, regardless of the pay of the "workers" so we're world beaters as far as those products are concerned. North America is also the leading economy in terms of recycling and reuse of steel.

    So yeah, bulk steel production has moved off shore but the value added steel industry still exists here. Maybe not so much in Pittsburgh and Hamilton, ON anymore but it's still here. But bulk steel is a commodity now whereas specialty steel is where the real money is.

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