3 August 2009 • 7:00 am

Technology Happens – A Quiz

An recent op-ed piece in the New York Times graphically illustrated the impact of changing technology on an industry familiar to all of us. It reminded me a bit of my earlier riff on Netflix vs. Blockbuster, but it was the graphic that I found especially compelling. I’ve reproduced a portion of the graphic here, deliberately obscuring some of the detail and some of the data. The horizontal axis is time, and each of the vertical bars in the charts leading from left to right represents one year, from 1973 to 1999. Each of the patterns represents the emergence, growth, and demise of a particular distribution method for this industry’s product, and the height of each bar represents the constant current dollar value of goods shipped in each year (in billions). A black box is drawn around the peak year for each of the distribution methods.

Mystery Industry Distribution Methods - sales in billions (Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company)

Mystery Industry Distribution Methods - sales in billions (Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company)

In 1973, this industry was dominated by one distribution method (the third big set of bars from the top), with a healthy share of business in a second method (the top set of bars). The value of each of these two methods peaked in 1978, replaced by the rapid growth of a newer approach that peaked in 1988 (the second set of bars), which in turn was eclipsed by the very rapid growth of yet another distribution method whose sales peaked in 1999.

So from this chart, we conclude that this is a large industry, whose primary distribution methods emerge and die out rapidly, and which enjoyed modest overall growth from about $11 billion in 1973 to about $17 billion in 1999.

While I expect that some readers may have seen this piece, and others will be inspired to find the article to learn more. But if you’re patient, I will reveal the rest of the story later this week. In the mean time, I have a couple of questions I hope you’ll answer in the comments:

  1. What industry do you think this is?
  2. What do you think the complete chart (which will go to the year 2008) will look like?
  3. What would be some characteristics of your business strategy as a hypothetical key industry player in 1999?

Please offer your thoughts below. I’ll moderate any comments to ensure that the answer is not revealed prematurely.

Comments are closed.