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
    nasch (profile), 20 Aug 2010 @ 10:56am

    Might have been worth it to try and save the Bison-hide industry in 1872.

    Perhaps, but not for the sake of the industry. The bison hide industry is defunct, and we're just fine. We use cowhide now. The bison, on the other hand, could have used some protection, but that's a totally separate issue.

    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.

    Again, you're talking about protecting companies, not an industry.

    Certain industries also have an strategic importance

    It's a good point. You have to be careful though, because powerful interests will ensure that they get on the list of strategically important industries that need government protection. Even if they're something that needs no protection at all, such as... oh, I don't know, movie studios.

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