No. of Recommendations: 3
Let's assume everyone stops printing pictures

But let's not, since to assume that you have to crash Hewlett Packard's printer division (a good part, anyway), and ink refills, and clear the shelves of "photo paper" at Staples and Office Max, you have to get rid of all the kiosks at Walgreens and CVS, reduce Photoshop sales to almost zero, pull the remaining film stock from the hotel gift shops in Las Vegas and drug stores everywhere, and so on. All of this seems pretty unlikely.

But even if you do, you still have airtime charges for sending the pictures from your phone, and bandwidth charges for sending them from your camera (via your computer), and if I can't identify exactly what or where those airtime or bandwidth charges are, that doesn't mean they don't exist. That may make it harder as an investment thesis, but not as an economic one that a new industry has replaced - and probably surpassed - the old one.

It also seems extremely unlikely that people are going to stop sharing pictures. Whether that is electronic or physical, there's a market. It's certainly a different market than before, but it's still a market. People now pay for web space, or use advertising supported websites to share, or e-mail to friends, or print out and mail to Mom - or whatever. That all counts as "economic activity", even if it's not "manufacturing rolls of celluloid" in Rochester.

There is no doubt that markets appear and disappear. Once upon a time there weren't really "newspapers" as we think of them. It became an industry in the late 1800's, and (for example) New York City had 20 of them printing a daily edition. Then came radio, and newspapers shrank to about a dozen. Radio impinged on the advertising, and for some segment "free" was better than "penny press" and they stopped reading altogether. Then came TV, and the dozen shrank to 7 or 8. More siphoning of advertising, and more "free". Now comes the internet, and the city is down to about 4 or 5, depending on how you count, and it will probably go lower yet. So while 80% of the newspapers have disappeared, there are TV stations with news departments, advertising salespeople supporting them, a cable channel which does nothing but local NY news, there are 80 radio stations, and lord knows how many bloggers sitting in closets working free or perhaps for micropayments or even freelance writing for actual, viable websites like Salon or Huffington or Townhall. I venture that more people get more news than when there were 5 times as many newspapers. And...

There is, by my estimate, far more economic activity from all of these things than there ever was from the 15 out-of-business newspapers, some of which were shoe-string operations in the first place. And, I would submit, likewise with "photography" versus "celluloid film", although it has been replaced in vastly different geographies, industries, technologies and interests.

The business of "images" has been democratized even further. More cameras. More places to "develop" celluloid, or print digital. More software to manipulate images. More distribution channels. More places to display them (websites, for one big area.) More ways to print, more consumables available to more people, more stores selling them, more people buying more of them.

Yes, there have been downsides. I wouldn't want to have been a big shareholder in Kodak or Fuji. I'm sure Disney World is selling fewer boxes of film, and probably not getting as much licensing revenue from Kodak for their "Kodak moment" signs around the park. I'll bet the film developers at drug stores are down, but the drugstores themselves are probably flat or off a little or up a little, given the kiosks and ink and whatnot.

The best thing about all of this is that my parents can send me a snapshot via e-mail and I can glance at it and then discard it, rather than sitting in their livingroom at Thanksgiving and waiting an hour while Dad sets up the slide-projector and then laboriously pages through endless and boring slides of their vacation to Harriburg last year. That's worth a lot to me. ;)

BTW, I suspect you could go through this exercise for almost any industry that's been decimated, and find out that while there have assuredly been losers, there have been big winners someplace else, perhaps in very unexpected places, and that the sum of all economic activities has mostly grown, even as whole businesses and industries have been destroyed. Would you like to give up your car and go back to horses and buggywhips?

OK, this is a bond board; I'll stop now. But the thread tickled me and I had to chime in. It's a fault, but I can't help it.
Print the post  


When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.