4 Industries that Desperately Need Reinvention to Stay Alive

(Image: Reuters)

The last 20 years have seen hundreds of new businesses take shape, thanks to the birth and rise of the internet. Professions that made no sense just a generation ago – or even barely a decade ago – are now full-fledged livelihoods for millions (read “digital marketer”). On the other hand, technology has also spelt the death knell for a bunch of businesses that have been replaced with newer technology a la the gramophone vs. iPod and typewriter vs. computer analogies of yore. So which industries are the “typewriters” of our generation? Here’s a look at businesses that are on their way out in their current form and may be completely extinct within the next decade.

Specialty Printers

Three years ago, the leader in photographic technology for nearly a century – Kodak – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As photography has gone from analog to digital to smartphone, players in the industry have had to transform quickly to survive the onslaught of technology. One type of printing in particular stands out in its transmutation. From wedding invites to business cards to printing albums of your latest vacation, specialty printers have been around for as long as photography has.
While we have witnessed an explosive growth in the popularity of digital and smartphone cameras, jobs in the specialty printing industry have been declining at a rate of 5% according to CareerCast’s job report for 2014. People now prefer going online to a service like Shutterfly and creating their own DIY photobooks of their cherished moments. The convenience of not having to go to a store to order prints, the flexibility of creating your own designs combine with the cost effective prices, makes going to a photo studio for printing a redundant idea.

Web-to-print solution providers like DesignnBuy take this convenience to the next level. Not only do they allow users to print the good old photobooks and photo prints, users now have the option of designing and getting delivery of stationery, T-Shirts, mugs or anything else they might fancy all in one simple interface.


Travel Agencies

Close to 90% of today’s travelers book their travel online, up from 58% in 2010. Travel research agency PhocusWright found that 90% of millennials own a smartphone, only 57% of older generations do. This marked shift in device usage will determine how millennials buy travel, how they explore destinations, even how loyal they will be to travel brands.

Apps like AirBnB and Uber are already giving hotels and car rental services a run for their money. Nearly a quarter of all millennials book their travel online via their smartphones, cutting out the traditional travel agency entirely from the picture. Compare that with just 5% of older travelers and you see the sign of times to come.
While corporate incentive travel still depends on travel agencies owing to the logistics of managing large numbers of people vacationing together, everyday business travel is already being delegated to individual travelers with corporate travel apps like Concur and TripIt. These apps allow travel planning, booking, approvals, reimbursements and more all in one place.

The travel agencies that live to see the next twenty years will be ones that offer specialty services, luxurious and bespoke experiences that cannot be managed via an app or online service.

Print Publishing Houses
The tale of magazines, newspapers and the print publication industry at large is one of declining fortunes. With newsstand sales falling consistently, digital subscriptions and online ad sales are the only silver lining in a fast deteriorating industry. Even with digital advertising revenues growing at a double digit pace, industry standard bearer New York Times posted a net loss of $14 million in Q1 of 2015. In the next few years we can expect to see many smaller print publications fold up their business and the battle for eyeballs will move entirely online. Boutique magazines will make their appearance thanks to self-publishing apps like Issuu. Even larger publications will shift business focus to the digital medium, embracing independent digital distribution as well as through apps like Flipboard and the much anticipated Apple News.


As readers go digital, it makes sense for publishers to de-emphasize their print businesses and relook at online platforms with fresh eyes. Despite the deluge of free content online, there are publishers who are thriving. The publishers that are making money today are ones that have succeeded in creating content that is so unique and valuable that users are ready to pay to consume it. They have not only raised the bar in terms of quality content, they have also innovated with new advertising formats like native ads to create a more streamlined experience for their readers online.

Video Rentals & Bookstores

I don’t remember the last time I rented a CD or DVD from the local video rental store. Looks like most movie buffs don’t either. Video rental mega chain Blockbuster suffered losses for many years, before finally going defunct last year. Book stores haven’t fared any better either. Borders, one of the biggest bookstore chains in the world at the time, closed its doors permanently in 2011 owing to users who have moved on to more tech savvy options.


Meanwhile, Netflix has solidified its dominance in the on-demand video industry with three times as many subscribers as the population of Australia. Amazon’s Kindle has drawn more users to the lost pursuit of reading books via its e-reader. The availability of e-books at prices comparable to a latte at Starbucks, has helped matters along.

Yes, video rentals on their old world form will cease to exist. In a world where users can watch movies on demand on Google Play or iTunes, the concept of renting a DVD is obsolete to say the least. But that does not mean there’s no room for innovation in the space. Just as video libraries operated on “sub-letting” DVDs to multiple readers, video rental services could offer pay-per-view services of videos for which they acquire rights from production companies directly. A paid P2P sharing service e-books along the lines of a traditional library is another business opportunity that might be in the offing for bookstores running into losses.

Parting Words George Elliott famously said “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” You only wish some businesses would take that advice to heart and become more than what they are in their current avatars!


(Photos: Author)