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
    actcochise (profile), 20 Aug 2010 @ 9:27am

    Is it not worth saving ANY industry?

    Might have been worth it to try and save the Bison-hide industry in 1872. By not having the hunters kill every last bison they could find, until there were almost none left.

    As a whole this post is too market-forces positive in my opinion. There are other concerns in a society than "do or die". Sometimes a market can become disrupted through forces outside of the industry's own control, and it becomes necessary for the state to intervene to not have undue damage done in a transitional phase. Such an example was the car industry in the US when the housing bubble burst. Now, GM and Ford and the lot were obviously mismanaged prior to that event, and in trouble already, but nonetheless it does seem like it was worth it at the time to ensure these huge companies didn't die entirely, as they are now back in the black again.

    Certain industries also have an strategic importance over and beyond their "competitiveness" and impact on employment and profitability. The food industry is one such. That is why countries all over the world give their farming industry subsidies. They don't want all of their food sources to be entirely in the hands of other people and countries. That's probably worth a thought too.

    So the answer is - yes, sometimes it CAN be worth saving "an industry", even if the prevailing market forces would have such an industry die off.

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