That Which We Know – And That Which Must Change

So last column I mentioned that some businesses and companies were probably only surviving (perhaps even poorly) because they had simply become social institutions. We are used to these companies, and that keeps them from evolving–or dying off appropriately. So I asked myself, what companies and so forth were probably surviving due to a large part of sheer familiarity? The answer was pretty illustrative.

Here are a few I came up with.  This is in no way the end all-be-all.

Movies And Movie Theaters Especially:
First, let's start with movie theaters and movies in general. In a weird way this is a horribly inefficient method of delivering entertainment–large lumbering studios that decide “Mr. Mom” is primed for a remake, huge structures with overpriced food in which to view this content, and what appears to be increasingly unhappy audience. How much of our moviegoing habits are just due to the fact that were used to?

Frankly, I think a lot. When I moved to California, I started seeing movies a lot less–probably because the weather was nicer and there was a lot more to do (theaters were great on rainy days and winter. Eventually, since the movies would just come out on Netflix or on DVD, and I could see the with my friends and nice quiet apartment (unless the dog decided to have a berserk barking festival at a random garbage bag), why would I want to go to theaters? In fact, it seems movies were coming out on DVD faster and faster so why worry?

I hate to say it, but I think the entire movie industry, and theaters in specific, are surviving these people are simply used to them.  That's going to change as people get Netflix streaming video and other services easier. The industry is going to need to change–I think it doesn't have much choice–and I think theaters are going to suffer before the movie studios.

Newspapers and news sources:
Yes I've ranted about the low quality of news channels and newspapers.  I, a dedicated news junkie, have fallen out of love with most of my sources that I've used over the years. But let's be honest here–news is a business is changing rapidly, and facing a rapidly changing world.

First, let's face it, news is a business–which I think explains why many news sources have over time, come to suck just as much as many other media sources. Does anyone actually like the news sources out there beyond a few people who are dedicated to one or the due to ideology, personalities, or habit? Mostly I hear everyone complaining-and sadly, not even for very good reasons. News seems to be reviled.

(At some point I need to go into my Cronkite theory but that's a long story.)

And let's face it plenty of news companies have fallen down on the job, they haven't moved with the times, or worse moved backwards into blatant commercialization and incompetent bandwagon–jumping. When this is a subject of discussion in the halls of government, and how it makes America look bad, you have a problem.

In the age of the global Internet, it if your news source stinks, you can find something else, and probably find something for free. On top of all of this, various newspapers haven't figured out how to move with the times, from a more globalized audience, to using the Internet.

I get my news from all sources–indeed, I have to due to my personality, my profession, and what I believe is a ethical responsibility to be informed. I do not think anyone knew source should be relied on, or trusted. The old models don't work anymore, and I think they only survive because of social familiarity.

So what's next? Let's see. I'm not sure, but I think "news" is going to become a kind of multi-level, multi-service thing – and aggregators are going to be a big deal.  I also think specialized news is a definite viable model.

Some IT companies and services:
Yes, yes, I'm talking CorpTechPocalypse again. As much as some software companies and services innovate in technology, they don't always innovate in business structure, or practice, or policy, or good support, or . . . well, you get the idea.

Were still used to go into a store, purchasing a box containing a disk, and installing it.  However that is changing rapidly in an age of DLC and App Stores and SaaS.  We're getting used to downloading or going online to run something, and that's changing fast.

When that changes enough, is the very concept of at least some software and IT companies even relevant anymore? Were used nearly renting software in some cases such as when we use Salesforce. Were used to mods that we download. Were used to downloading software written by some guy in his basement (sort of a return to the old days) that happens to sell millions of copies.

We pay $15 a month to adventure with other people in an MMO.   I remember when a friend of mine laughed at the very idea.

This is going to change, the institutions are going to change, companies are in the rise and fall. How we get, use, update, and consumer software and IT services is changing.

I don't think everyone can or will move with the times. This is odd, because IT is a very dynamic area, indeed one I feel that is the most open to changing reorganization. I just think that some companies and business areas aren't moving fast–a scary thought when you think of it.

Hell, I don't know what more I can say that I haven't said over and over again.  Publishing is changing rapidly, insanely, and everyone is struggling to keep up.

I'm not just talking books here either – its easier and easier to get almost any form of media out.

As opposed to repeating myself, and cover subjects have discussed to the point of nausea, I'll just say this; publishing is changing to being about giving people access to creating and getting that created media. It's less and less about gatekeeping, and even marketing (which you can just outsource).  It's about being, oddly, a kind of middleman or service provider.

This is an area that's gonna change rapidly – even more than it already has.

Publishing is an area where the rapid change is even more strange and bizarre.  On one level the change is very rapid – I'm entirely self-published as are other people, in ways we could never imagine a decade ago.  At the same time, we're still buying the same stuff we ever did, hanging out at the corner bookstore (until it closes), and often seem blasé about the many changes.  It's as if the pairing of rapid change and familiarity are almost in harmony (or at least ignored).

I think part of the reason for this strange admixture is that we identify both as media consumers, but as media producers (how many of us have hopes of being published).  So the social familiarity of wanting to be a producer (if only identifying with the dream) helps us overcome the rapid changes in a familiar area of production – and those changes seem to reinforce what we want anyway (more stuff that's good).

However, with rapid changes (and the Bankruptcy of Borders) I think we're still facing some cultural shocks and inertia.

A very strange area indeed.

In Closing:
So that's a look at a few areas I see changing rapidly and need to overcome social inertia – but I can see plenty more.  What do you think?

– Steven Savage