Out with the old, in with the older

I recently read an interesting piece in the New Yorker about Kodak’s upcoming Super 8 release, and the strategy behind it. In short, the article describes Kodak’s decision to revert to their legacy product and the macro trends that make it a reasonable strategy.

Consumers have shown a strong appetite for old products — board games, analog watches, vinyl records, coffee makers, cameras, etc. Opportunities in this industry can prove lucrative.

“According to Nielsen Soundscan, Americans bought nearly twelve million vinyl records in 2015, an increase of more than twelve hundred per cent since 2006. Fujifilm, meanwhile, projects that it will sell more than five million Instax instant-film cameras this year globally, compared to just under a million in 2010.”

I’ve been touched here as a consumer of music equipment. The last five years have brought about what many call “the golden age of analog synthesis in electronic music” — a statement that sounds counter-intuitive. At LA’s recent National American Music Merchants expo — a showcase for the year’s upcoming tech innovations — products like these generated some of the strongest buzz:

The Arturia Maxi-Brute looks like something out of an 80’s synth-pop video on a tube TV, I really want one tho

So why does this matter for tech people?

Well, I think there’s something interesting at play, where we see disruptions take and leave parts of larger products and spaces.

TV for example, the wave of disruptions around TV is leaving few survivors — networks, advertisers, even furniture makers are facing bleak futures. Simultaneously, Apple, Google and Amazon are still pushing their TV products hard. Why is that?

Well because TV’s are awesome. Watching movies on a 60 inch screen is always better than on a 6 inch screen. There were just some factors of TV that were not-so-awesome before and will soon cease to exist.

The same is true for art. Analog video, photography and musical tools are always going to be awesome to use, just not awesome to depend on.

Sometimes tech people completely turn their backs on incumbent industries. What we’ll likely continue to see happening is industries co-existing, with the sub-optimal products or facets washing away.

Those sub-optimal products are a focused area where new ideas can become large companies. Instagram, Ableton, Netflix, Ebay don’t completely wipe out the industry — they enhance it.

I’m thinking a lot about transportation, employment, AI, VR. Sometimes I focus on what incumbents get wiped out by advancements in these fields, and more on what becomes enhanced by these technologies. I think focusing on what old products will survive can give me a clue into what other products need to be disrupted.

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