by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
change, industries, innovation

10 Industries That Are 'Dying'? Or 10 Industries That Are Changing?

from the i'd-argue-they're-changing... dept

A few folks sent in variations on a recent report about "10 Dying U.S. Industries," which lists out and discusses ten industries in the US that have already gone through serious declines and are facing even more declines:
The discussion at the link above summarizes the key points as being that most of these were taken down by either technology or global competition:
Six of the 10 are clearly getting killed by technology: wired telecoms (i.e. landlines); newspapers; game and video rental; video postproduction; record stores; and photofinishing (i.e. photo printing).

Two of the 10 are clearly getting killed by global competition: apparel manufacturing and mills. (Mills, in this context, basically refers to what we think of as textiles — it includes textile mills, textile mills, apparel mills and carpet and rug mills.)
It goes on to note that the "formal wear rental" situation is really due to global competition as well, since cheap foreign production means that people are more willing to buy their own formal wear these days, rather than rent it.

Of course, I'd argue that the issue here may be more about how you define "industry." If we define them at a wider level -- for example "communications" rather than down to the specific level of "wired telecommunications carriers," it's easy to see that the industry is rapidly changing, but not at all "dying." I think this is a problem that we come across a lot. People look at a group of companies and falsely define them as an "industry," when they're really not. It's the old marketing myopia problem all over again, where people in the train business don't realize they're in the transportation business, and thus do little to adapt. I think it does everyone a disservice to call these business lines "industries," when they're really just a temporary piece of an ever-changing industry.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Nick Coghlan (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 10:30pm

    It depends on what you're trying to measure/assess

    For investment purposes and for deciding how valuable a given skill set is likely to be in the future, defining "industry" in this narrow sense is quite useful.

    If your expertise is in applying ink to wood pulp and shipping it out to customers every morning, then sorry, demand for that expertise is going to fall precipitously over the coming years.

    If you're a wired telecommunications tech who only knows how to work with copper, and has learned nothing about optical fibre technology, then you should consider your job at risk as well.

    Yes, these industries, in a broader sense, are changing rather than declining, but from the point of view of investors and individuals, it's often the narrow sense that matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    MrWilson, Apr 7th, 2011 @ 10:47pm

    Re: It depends on what you're trying to measure/assess

    By your description, the narrow sense seems to correspond to narrow-mindedness. No one is ever "a wired telecommunications tech who only knows how to work with copper" unless they are so old they should retire or young but unwilling to find a new niche.

    Graphic designers who work in print should be able to translate their skills into digital based design such as web design or multimedia design. I'm not saying everyone can adapt easily or will necessarily find the exact same job that pays the exact same wage, but that's the nature of change.

    Anyone who is stubbornly unwilling to adapt to inevitable change and thus holds back the rest of us shouldn't be surprised that they're left behind eventually and their perspective should only be accounted for in the study of history.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    G Thompson (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 11:48pm

    Industry classifications and Subgroups

    The Industry Classification Benchmark (ICB) categorises "individual companies into subsectors based primarily on a company's source of majority revenue"

    This categorisation breaks Industries into segregated groups, subgroups, supersectors, and sectors which is the best way to talk about these companies.

    Though even that could be broken down, which is why things like UKSIC, ANZSIC, and NAICS (replaced the USA SIC codes) are used in major demographic datasets about companies.

    The problem is no body remembers all of them and its easier to call the "Recording Industry" the Music Industry.. since to the layperson they ARE the music industry.

    Same as Phone companies are the telecommunication Industry.. though even satellite manufacturers are part of that huge sector.

    *sigh sometimes KISS works, other times it's a PITA (Pain in the *rse)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Fzzr (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 11:53pm


    You said "textile mills" twice. Not sure what you meant to put there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Fzzr (profile), Apr 7th, 2011 @ 11:55pm

    Re: Typo

    Never mind, that was a quote. Might want to put a [sic] there, unless there's something I'm missing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Liz, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 2:49am

    These 10 industries are obviously impacted by Internet Piracy.

    Wired Telecommunications? Those land-line phones don't offer enough speed to download movies in a reasonable amount of time. You're looking at around 9 hours download time for a 750mb/90 minute feature!

    News Paper publishers are loosing money because people are obviously pirating news from other sources. Ignoring pay walls and going to other news outlets for information. The young and lazy are to blame for this injustice.

    Because of all the "downloadable" movies, games and music, rental houses and record stores are loosing businesses to online downloads and those store front kiosks. If the entertainment industry isn't getting paid at LEAST four (4) times for one (1) product, then it's theft!

    Manufactured Home dealers are suffering because of... PIRATES! Yeah, I'm gonna stick with that one.

    Textile Mills, Apparel manufacturing and Costume/Formal wear rentals are suffering because the decline in movie sales means fewer movies are supposed to be made. Film companies don't rent as many costumes. Plus fewer actors and musicians don't go to as many award shows due to the rampant theft of movies online. So, they stop renting formal wear. Without costume rentals, people that create clothing purchase fewer bolts of cloth.

    It's just like how corn farmers are suffering because people don't go to movie theaters any more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Michael, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 3:51am

    Re: It depends on what you're trying to measure/assess

    "If your expertise is in applying ink to wood pulp and shipping it out to customers every morning"

    That's half of the problem. The newspaper companies actually have an expertise in community building. They used the news - in printed form - to gather together a group of people and engage them. Then, they sold their attention to advertisers. For some reason, they have gotten stuck on the idea that the ink and wood pulp is the important part of this. They are stuck on the specifics of how they are building a community and have forgotten that they are building one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 5:19am

    Not an economic catastrophe

    These stories are usually written as if some type of massive economic catastrophe were taking place. True, it can be a tragedy for someone loosing their job or sees a chuck of their retirement nest-egg vanish, but on the large scale these are not tragedies. The money spent on these industries is not going away. Generally consumers benefit from these changes. At the large scale their is not a loss to the economy. But a story about "killing" is a lot more dramatic than a story about "changing."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 5:28am

    I did notice...

    .. that neither the film industry, nor the music industry - i.e. the bits that actually manage (i won't say produce) the content - make the top 10 despite all the loud bitching they do about how they are being killed. This despite the lower level parts of the distribution method of each being on the list. Funny that really.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Vidiot (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 5:39am

    Nothing new here, really

    The view from within these industries, naturally enough, is different than the outsider's analysis; I'd be surprised, for instance, to hear that there are fewer tuxes rented for weddings and proms these days, but that's not my business.
    But I can comment that in one field -- video postproduction -- the "industry" has merely migrated. And it's been a five-year process, which actually ended a couple of years ago... no real "news" here. Democratized by Premiere Pro and Final Cut, a lot of the post houses' traditional market has converted to a professional form of DIY... shooters and directors doing their own editing. In other cases, an editor will be hired directly by Harpo (Oprah) or Martha Stewart Living; and ad hoc edit facilities are assembled by each reality show's production company on an as-needed basis. My own little company used to book about 30% of our three edit rooms' time with outside clients; those folks have vanished, but no matter... we make more money when we write, shoot and edit our own productions, rather than simply sit and wait for others to shoot.
    It's all very organic, really -- 15 or 20 years ago, the industry migrated into its former status quo, and it's no surprise to see the wheel spin 'round once again. Suspect it's similar in may of the other industries named.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 6:01am


    ALthough I have marked this as funny, it would not suprise me if some anti piracy group jumped on this and used it to reinforce their arguements that Internet piracy is killing everything!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Andy (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 6:05am

    Dying Industries

    I'm sure for people employed in low level positions in these industries that this change is very scary. However, for people employed in the larger industries - communications for example, this is a good change. This article could be run every 20 years or so. When cars started to gain popularity there were probably a lot of articles about the poor street cleaners, wagon makers, and stable hands, and how the evil automobile tycoons were depriving them of work. I think the lesson is that people have to be able to change to keep up with technology. I doubt many would argue that we should go back to filthy, smelly, sh*t filled streets because all those poor horse related workers need jobs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Jay (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 6:06am

    One area I would love to know about

    The textile industry seems to have suffered greatly. I remember there was a big fuss about how a lot of seamstresses were losing jobs because of the overall global market.

    Has anyone understood what happened there?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Big Al, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 7:16am

    Re: Re: Typo

    Aye lad, theres trouble at t' mill

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Insensitive Troll, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 8:12am


    Love the comments. You forgot that Internet piracy is also causing the government shutdown.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Apr 8th, 2011 @ 11:37am

    I may have missed it...

    But was there any word from the struggling popcorn industry?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    JR, Apr 8th, 2011 @ 2:54pm

    Video Post Dieing

    Currently video post still exists in the US because of technology. Yes there are still small pockets of old tech (VTR/VCR) based that are disappearing. But the real cause of the decline is moving off shore. It started with animation and is spreading to the video post houses that are FX heavy. an acquaintance who works for Rythum and Hues as a senior editor got an offer from ILM—in Singapore. He also has a counter offer from R&H—in Kuala Lumpur.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Nick Coghlan (profile), Apr 12th, 2011 @ 12:20am

    Re: Re: It depends on what you're trying to measure/assess

    Ah, but you're making the mistake of viewing "the newspaper company" as a monolithic entity. It isn't, it's made up of individuals, and many of those individuals aren't needed in the digital world.

    If your job is servicing the printing presses, driving the delivery truck, managing the ink store... there isn't any place for you in an all-digital shop.

    If your job is managing one of those no longer needed (or substantially reduced) divisions, then you're for the chopping block, too.

    Leaders can't lead where the followers won't follow and the legacy newspaper companies have a big problem on that front.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Nick Coghlan (profile), Apr 12th, 2011 @ 12:29am

    Re: Re: It depends on what you're trying to measure/assess

    Oh, definitely, I wasn't defending overspecialisation and a lack of adaptability, merely pointing them out as a fact of life for many people.

    The problem with taking a big picture "company X should just adapt to the changing market" view is that it can miss the trees for the forest.

    Companies are made of people, and they can only change direction when the people within them do (whether that's organically or via leadership from the top). If the only way for a company to survive is to (for example) get out of the bricks-and-mortar world and go pure digital, then there are going to be a lot of people within that company that have no place in the new structure, and hence will understandably do everything they can to preserve the status quo. What do they care about the future of the company as a whole if postponing inevitable change staves off the direct impact on themselves for at least a few more years?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, Apr 16th, 2011 @ 6:56am

    Who can afford..

    to go to events that require formal wear anymore?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2011 @ 9:10pm

    you dismiss it, because it doesn't agree with your terms?
    the broad term is there for a reason, it is an umbrella term

    wired telecommunications carriers, are dying out, I have not had a home phone for many years, I have no need of one, but the internet I have need for and the communications carriers provide that, so part of their business is dying, you just choose to ignore it

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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