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 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Re: Railways?

    "more money to the train system when they could innovate to compete with cars and airplanes."

    Just a minor point here, though I'm no defender of railways. Car/truck transportation out competed rail, in many cases. because the roadbed that they used was "free" while railways paid for theirs maintenance and all.

    Well we do pay for our roads and highways in our taxes remember that there's an unholy screech when jurisdictions propose tolling those roadways or part of them to pay for a part of the maintenance or construction costs. Rail pays for it all themselves.

    As for continental Europe after World War II there was precious little left of public or private highways and railways in Germany, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Greece, The Balkans or Poland and Czechoslovakia. The occupiers and governments of the day got to build new and better of both. North Americans built roads, the English neither built roads or upgraded rail and we know about what happened in England by the 1960s up the that awful woman Thatcher. Japan got the same advantages as continental Europe because they got hammered from the air as well.

    In some respects the United States is playing catch up now in terms of passenger rail. (Canada never will, sadly, until we're forced into it.) Like interstates it'll be expensive but, I rather suspect, in the end, it'll be worth it.

    Until recently the notion of trains competing with air would have been laughable but with recent improvements in rail bed and laying technologies as well as efficiencies in electrified rail for inter city use it's quite possible.

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