When the web got started, no one imagined how much it would change the music, video, travel and news industries. Originally “protected” by production processes that “physically” guaranteed copyright (CDs, DVDs, newspapers), or because they once profited from access to exclusive information (like travel agents), these industries were destabilized by the web’s ability to push historical boundaries.
Up until now, digital has basically provoked two types of rupture: dematerialization and disintermediation. Most affected were the industries whose value can now be reproduced ad infinitum by content digitalization, such as cultural industries, television and databases of all kinds (like encyclopaedias).
Then came disintermediation. Instead of depending on a mediator to decide what would please the end user (record labels, editors, travel agents), the inventor or the content producer went directly to the public, depriving the intermediary industry of their raw material to sell.
Recently, the digital landscape has generated two new models that savvy brands would be smart to analyze, and even adopt, if they don’t want to be hurt. Unsurprisingly, the consumer holds the cards in both cases.
1. The Crowdsourcing Model
Out of nowhere, new competitors are popping up and striking with an instant, unpredictable force that is often free and appealing to millions of online users. For example, hotels are starting to seriously feel the heat from what they consider to be underhanded competitors, like AirBnB. Bed and breakfasts are nothing new, but unlike hotels, they don’t show up in accommodation databases and are often not considered as viable accommodation options by many travellers. However, professional snapshots, a social evaluation tool for hosts and guests, and an efficient management system for hosts-in-training have turned this around, allowing this sector to pierce the hotel industry model. Likewise, another model with all the trimmings of a traditional travel agency that’s shaking up its online counterparts is Flightfox, a site where real people search for the best travel prices. Business travellers and budget-conscious vacationers alike enjoy better advice from a human than data from search engine robots.
2. The DIY Model
There are more and more ways for people to create something personalized to their needs. We are entering the era of “professional” arts and crafts as digital methods open up numerous ways for people to take charge. We don’t think about it anymore, but 30 years ago, the idea of printing a newspaper ourselves was absolutely ridiculous, or, at any rate, required equipment that wasn’t readily available to the masses.
In his book, Makers, visionary Chris Anderson predicts a democratization of 3D printers, allowing for DIY design and production of objects. This could still seem a bit far-fetched to the general public, but he cites an extremely concrete example of dentists who use such equipment to “print” models of false teeth that they require, without having to use an outside supplier. Nothing hinders the excitement of our ability to potentially concoct our own objects, based on our ideas or open-source models. If you’ve never seen a 3D printer in action, click here.
Faced with these new risks, the temptation may be strong to do anything and everything – both practically and legally – to stop those who are stealing your business. Even if that works in the short term, it’s not an effective long-term strategy. All the signals are pointing towards starting to strategically develop new opportunities for your brand and products. It’s better to lend your consumers a hand and to stay in the game, rather than to let them resort to piracy or, even worse, bypass you for another, more open brand. Launch idea and design contests, like Heineken or GE, create APIs that provide access to your products, like LG or Edmunds. If possible, publish some of your models, like sewing patterns that have been around forever. After all, it’s better to be copied than forgotten.
And if you are still not convinced, did you know the Aston Martin destroyed in the last James Bond film was a printed 3D model?