Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Internet Ruined Everything

Newsweek recently published an online article by Daniel Lyons entitled How The Internet Ruined Everything. He describes how the emergence of new technology, namely the internet and the capabilities it provides, caused older, established businesses to weaken and fail.

He cites as examples Newspapers, TV, the music industry, movies and more. It's interesting reading, as it describes industry after industry failing to see the change coming and anticipating how it will impact them.

The internet is not the first technology to upset established industries. Many major technological changes caused industries to weaken or become irrelevant. The rise of the automobile punished the horse and buggy industries. Telephone impacted telegraph. Television impacted the radio industry. VCR's, Cassettes, CD's, Digital Cameras, you name it.

This is the reality: New inventions or technologies will destroy old business models. You can't change that. You can learn how to profit from it, though.

If you are a film photographer, digital probably messed with you. Faced with a choice, you could either adapt to the new tech, lose business to those that did, or stay old school and become a niche business. Either way, you had to make a choice.

Film or not, now we have the world of $700 dSLRs and $200 printers. Now anyone with $1000 can shoot and print. Maybe not at your quality level, but some customers won't know the difference. It may bug you that someone else can elbow their way into your niche with little investment or experience, but getting angry about it won't make it stop.

And the internet has made advertising and promotion inexpensive and quick. What used to involve yellow pages and print advertising can now be done through social networking, blogging and e-newsletters. If you are not leveraging these technologies, you are losing edge and exposure. Young people just don't look in the phone book. Their phone book is that little search box in the browser...or on their cell phone's browser. If you aren't served up in those search results, you are invisible to them.

Proofing used to involve contact sheets and books. Now it's online or done through projection. If you can't provide online or individualized proofing, other than printed 4x5's, you are losing edge and customers.

How many of your consults ask for a DVD of images? Last year I said a flat "no", then realized that they are going somewhere. I now get twice as many wins as last year, and I have two kinds of wedding clients - those who want a DVD and pay me more up front, and those who want prints and books and pay me later. My DVD clients require less total effort, so I can fit in more and generate volume through higher session counts. I still do a lot of print business. them resets, paradigm shifts or technological revolutions. They will continue to happen.

Each of the industries impacted by old technology had a choice: adapt or die. In Adapting, they had to broaden the focus of their mission.

Think of how today's shifts are changing our world. Are we makers of paper prints, or a creator of visual memories? How does the broadened scope allow us to break out of a shoot-proof-print mode and get into the consult-create-share/sell mode? Deliver images for someone's PDA, cell phone or Kindle? Mix video clips and stills for our clients? Become a teacher for digital photography so they can do what you do...but call you for the big stuff? Offer digital image archival and transfer for clients?

You have to define how far you can stretch and stay in your comfort zone. But remember, where you do not choose to go, new entrants to your space will be there, and so will some of your customers. I'm not saying you lower your standards for quality, profit or style. But you may need to expand your offerings and look outside your old business model to find growth or sustainability to yesterday's expectations.

What's out there on the horizon that might change our world tomorrow?

How about these:

- Hi-res video from dSLRs. Mini movies for your clients? Scouting sessions? Someone's doing it in your area today.
- Streaming video from the cell phone. A new product for your customers? Are you ready to deliver slide shows and movies in that format?
- Social networking images. Are you scared they will rip them off and post crappy scans? Give it to them instead, with branding and links to your page. Insist on friending.
- iPhone apps, and more like it.
- Augmented reality - point a phone at something and it shows you stuff about it.
- Cloud computing - no longer do you need a thick client (computer). Upload and allow your customers immediate access to images? A custom-branded photo edit and download site with your name?
- eBook readers - how can you leverage them for your photography? PDF books of your customers' images? Coffee table eBooks? Fund-raising calendar/books?
- Batteries that last forever and cards with immense storage - marathon/excessive shooting sessions?

The key takeaways are these:
- Resistance is Futile. The Borg (TM) were right.
- You survive by not only adapting but taking the new tech and making it a buisiness edge. Think iTunes, Flickr, mPix. How can you develop an edge with technology?
- Find out how to stay in your industry, but blow out one wall of your "building" and expand the concept to expand or redirect your business' direction instead of fighting the technology.

Me? I can't wait until the 550 Megapixel ocular implant with wireless gigabit download and heads-up realtime editing is available. Plug me in, baby!

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