Physical to Digital, Expert to Masses – Two Trend Currents

So today, rather than a carefully researched, well thought out and polished post, I’m just gonna riff on some thoughts I’ve had floating around in my brain lately.

This post was spurred by one I stumbled across at The Scholarly Kitchen blog calledWhy E-books Are Turning the Library and Publishing Worlds Upside Down (thank you WordPress!)

After reading that post I got to thinking about the similarities between what happened with the music recording industry with the advent of the mp3 player, file sharing sites, iTunes and cheap digital recording and editing software. At one time, the big players in the recording industry controlled what got recorded, released and promoted. If you wanted your music to reach a wide audience you had to jump through their hoops and play by their rules. They based those decisions on what they thought would sell and what artists would make them the most money.

Now, almost anyone can make a near-professional quality recording, sell it on iTunes and promote it world wide on the web. There is still a recording industry and they still play a role, but it’s much more open now. What was once the sole province of “experts” and “professionals” is now available to nearly everybody.

Or consider photography. We heard of the giant of the photo industry, Kodak, declaring bankruptcy. Funny thing is, Kodak was largely responsible for taking photography from the hands of “experts” and “professionals” and putting it in the hands of everybody. Where Kodak missed the boat was its reliance on the physical over the digital. Their business model assumed that a “picture” was something that you could hang on a wall or put in an album. Just as mp3s overwhelmed records and cds, jpegs (and such) overwhelmed film and prints.

So, where does this leave the book publishing industry? If the trend is always toward the digital over physical, then e-books are the wave of the future. I think publishers are catching on, but I don’t know if their business models will support the shift. The other trend is shifting production from experts and professionals to the masses. I don’t know if the publishing industry is at all ready for this. If the tools for making digital books are readily available and easy to use (InDesign, iBooks Author), and channels exist for making those books available to the public (Amazon, iBooks), and authors are willing to create and use their platforms to promote their work (websites, blogs), then why bother with going through all the hassle to get a book published by one of the big houses?

That’s not to say that books as we know them will disappear, or that Random House is going to go bankrupt any time soon. There will always be a market for paper and ink, just as there’s still a market for vinyl records and film photography. It’s just that the market will be shrinking and becoming a niche rather than the mainstream.

So what else will be impacted by the “physical to digital” and “expert/professional to masses” trends? Will it affect your business? Are you ready?

A TrendSurfing Wipeout?

By now you’ve probably heard about Kodak filing for bankruptcy protection. For years – generations even – Kodak was synonymous with photography. My grandmother even called any camera a “Kodak”. How did such a dominant company miss the digital photography wave?

Well, they didn’t really. Sorta.

Kodak actually invented and holds the patents on much of  the technology that enabled digital photography. They demonstrated the first digital camera in 1975. At least some part of the company recognized that a new wave was coming, even if they couldn’t tell how big it would be. Meanwhile, the company as a whole continued to ride the camera/film/print wave they had surfed for years.

As the wave grew, other companies like Sony and Canon positioned themselves to ride it. Kodak eventually did too, but it was late to the game and they really were trying to ride a different wave.

Kodak believed that, even though people would be taking digital photos, they would still want a “picture” – a tangible print, something they could frame or put in an album. Their “EasyShare” line of digital cameras were designed to connect to a printer to make it easy to share (!) your pictures without a computer. And even though Kodak bought one of the early online photo sharing sites, Ofoto, they seemed to think of it as a place to hold photos for printing.

So, like a surfer late to a wave, or not paddling fast enough to catch it, Kodak missed the crest of the digital wave. And when the film & print wave crashed, so did Kodak’s business.

What might this say for your business? What wave are you riding now that might be nearing shore? What ripples or swells are out on the horizon of your industry that might turn into a big wave? How can you make your business agile enough to be in position to catch that wave if (when) it comes?