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 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Railways?

    Actually the truth is quite the reverse of this. The advanced rail systems exist in cou8ntires where the system is run by the government - eg France. The reason for the collapse of railways in the US can be traced to commercial monopolistic behaviour by the oil companies in the 1940's who wished to undermine the (then coal fueled) railway system to increase demand for oil.

    They bullied the railway companies into switching overnight from steam (then a mature and efficient technology in which America led the world) to diesel too early and far too quickly. The required capital expenditure undermined the railways finances and they have never recovered. (This was always part of the oil companies plan to switch to road transport - which burns more oil.)

    The French on the other hand continued to run steam locomotives on some parts of their system for another 20-30 years whilst progressively electrifying their network. Then they were able to switch almost seamlessly to advanced rail technologies so that by the early 80s they led the world.

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