If you look at industries disrupted by the Internet over the past 15 years, you’ll find that most have been rocked by the following trends:
1. A shift in power from producer to consumer. How many people use travel agencies now that we have the power to book our own flights? How many of us go to a car dealership without researching purchases online first?
2. Increased competition brought about by radically reduced barriers to entry. When you don’t have to build, buy, or lease physical infrastructure anymore, it’s a lot cheaper to start a business than it used to be.
3. Heightened expectations for service and responsiveness now that customers are used to anytime, anywhere connectivity. While many companies haven’t gotten a great handle on this, we’ve definitely reached the point where very few people send complaint letters through the U.S. Postal Service when they have a problem.
4. Loss of control of brand messaging brought about by social media (and, to be fair, increased access to global markets and global brand recognition). Regardless of how carefully a brand crafts its messaging now, anything can happen once people start talking about it online.
5. Traditional business models have been radically disrupted due to an inability to control product distribution. The record industry’s biggest mistake? They thought they were selling discs. They weren’t. They were selling information on those discs. And once that information can be digitized and sent anywhere in the world instantaneously, the old models don’t work anymore.
6. Pressure from consumers to be able to buy and use their products anytime and anywhere. While the entertainment industry still wants to fight this trend, the fact remains that most people aren’t too happy when they’re told that they can’t use their purchase on multiple devices. Kudos for the Kindle app (available on just about every platform) for leading the way here.
7. Elimination of physical location as a differentiator or asset. When people have to physically go to your store to buy what you’re selling (or if you have to ship physical goods to stores so that people can buy them) location matters. If what you’re selling is information, who cares where you are?
If you look at nearly any industry based on information – travel, entertainment, publishing, journalism (just to name a few) – they’ve been irrevocably transformed over the past 10 to 15 years because of these trends. Oh, they might still be thinking they can legislate, regulate, or use technology to mitigate the effects of these changes, the rest of us know (at least those of us who don’t work in those industries!), that they’re fighting a losing battle. No matter how much industries (cable providers and mobile carriers are the best examples) that are based on moving data around want to fight it, the fact is that the trend vector points one way. They’re destined to be conduits for data.
No matter how much the music, film, and television industries throw digital rights management technologies at the problem, no matter how many obnoxious licensing deals they cut, and no matter how many people they sue, these information industries inevitably will be forced to admit that things can never go back to they way they used to be. And publishers – well, it’s pretty obvious at this point that if they don’t embrace e-books, they’re sunk. Just ask the folks in the newspaper biz.
To be fair, all of these industries have been making adjustments over the years. Still many continue to kick and scream as they are dragged into the digital future.
If they don’t give customers want they want, when they want it, and how they want it, someone else will. Can you say “Blockbuster?”
Next up: a look at one industry that (for the most part) is still partying like it’s 1995: higher education.