This Thanksgiving, go out and read Cory Doctorow’s Makers, a tale of the future where everything is so cheap to make that all the legacy companies have had to adapt. It’s free on his site; an easier to-read hardback is at bookstores. A quite prescient quote from Doctorow’s book got me going on it. It relates to what is happening to American companies, and how American companies are missing opportunities:
“Here’s the thing: the market had valued these companies at less than their cash on hand. They have twenty billion in the bank and a 16 billion dollar marketcap. We just made four billion dollars, just by buying up the stock and taking control of the company. We could shut the doors, stick the money in our pockets, and retire.”
“Kodacell has goodwill. It has infrastructure. Administrators. Physical plant. Supplier relationships. Distribution and logistics. These companies have a lot of useful plumbing and a lot of priceless reputation. What we don’t have is a product. There aren’t enough buyers for batteries or film-or any of the other stuff we make-to occupy or support all that infrastructure.
“We’re not the only ones. Technology has challenged and killed businesses from every sector. Hell, IBM doesn’t make computers anymore! The very idea of a travel agent is inconceivably weird today! And the record labels, oy, the poor, crazy, suicidal, stupid record labels. Don’t get me started.
“Capitalism is eating itself. The market works, and when it works, it commodifies or obsoletes everything. That’s not to say that there’s no money out there to be had, but the money won’t come from a single, monolithic product line. The days of companies with names like ‘General Electric’ and ‘General Mills’ and ‘General Motors’ are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities.