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Are We Facing the End of Business?

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
end of business in today's digital environment

The laws of supply and demand do not track in today's digital environment. Increasingly, there is a nearly unlimited supply with no relationship to demand.

It has only taken about 15 years for music to move from CDs to digital downloads to streaming. It's taken about the same amount of time for cameras to transition from film and paper to digital and pixels.

Today's tools make it insanely easy to listen to music and capture images. They also have transformed the way we watch movies and read books. You hop on an airplane or head to the beach with an iPad or Kindle rather than a heavy tome.

But the same digital technologies are also causing massive economic upheaval—and, in some cases, eviscerating entire business models. Remember Kodak? Blockbuster? Earthlink and AOL?

And it gets worse. Why buy a song or an album when you can watch it for free on YouTube or Vevo—or pay next to nothing on Spotify or Pandora? Why buy a book or movie when you can grab it off the Internet for free? Even if the quality is terrible, you can't beat the price!

For better or worse, the laws of supply and demand do not track in today's digital environment. Increasingly, there is a nearly unlimited supply with no relationship to demand. There is little or no control over scarcity. As a result, musical artists are struggling, book authors are hurting and photographers are shuttering their doors because they can't compete with $2 downloads from stock photo sites.

If you think your industry is exempt, think again. We've only begun to step into this potential quagmire. 3D printing will make it ridiculously easy for consumers to produce clothing, household items, medicine, electronics, even food! However, individuals who fabricate their own items for, say, 25 percent of the present cost, are unlikely to consume 4 times more, but that's essentially what's necessary to keep the economic equation static.

What happens when 3D printers produce cars, bicycles and furniture—or a Stradivarius?

Sorry, but your business model is kaput! You are essentially relegated to serving as a provider of intellectual property (IP), if you can keep it off the Internet and out of the hands of hackers.

The Internet has virtually eliminated barriers to market entry. Open source and shared IP further tilt the power away from the enterprise. In some ways, all of this is great. But whether we glide into a utopian future or head into a post-industrial train wreck remains to be seen.

For now, it's wise to focus on three concepts: creativity, innovation and agility.

This article was originally published on 2014-07-15

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for Baseline.

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