Will your industry go the way of newspapers - or business cards?


It is said that long-term thinking to the Japanese business person is 10-20 years out, while long-term thinking to a US business is next year.

Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than in the publishing industry - newspapers, magazines and books, but most notably newspapers. Until I was laid off in September 2008, I had spent my entire 34-year career in the newspaper industry. The demise of newspapers we are seeing today should be no shock to industry observers, insiders and executives. We knew more than 10 years ago that the industry would change systemically as the Internet took hold. But we didn't act. Today, we see the results.

Although there's not much to be done for newspapers, other industries can learn from the newspaper case study. It begs the question: do you know where your industry is going and are you positioning yourself to be a strong business in the future?

The other day I was discussing these trends with a friend in the commercial printing industry whose bread and butter is business cards, brochures, letterhead and envelopes. How well are printers positioning themselves to a new error of business-to-business communications?

Business cards, for example.

Almost everyone has a stack of business cards stuck in a drawer or shoved into a Rolodex. And we take pains to get nice business cards designed and printed that show ourselves off since they are often the first impression anyone will have about our businesses.

But already alternatives to paper cards are cropped up and although no one's predicting their demise any time soon, it doesn't take Nostradamus to figure out that the day will come when we carry our B-to-B communications in digital form on smart phones and share on the go with other smartphones. In fact, some of that is already happening.

Bump is an iPhone application that senses when another iPhone is nearby. If that iPhone has the Bump application you can simply knock the two phones together (think fist bump) and share your contact information, photos, or files.

Go a step beyond and you are at Dub - an online application with a component for the iPhone and other smart phones. Dub let's you build an online business card to send to others. When you receive a Dub card, it goes directly into your contact management program as well as keeping an copy of the card on your searchable Dub online account.

Visually, Dub is a little limiting, so for more snap, there's BusinessCard2. This site lets you create an online business cards with tabs and hyperlinks that can display more information about your business and your experience. But it's not really a business card unless it's mobile - at least not to me.

For that, get outside the box and visit IPromoteDigital. There you can create "media cards" that allow you to build in audio, video and short presentations using standard (or for a higher price - customized) Flash templates. Ipromote then burns your presentation onto a business-card sized CD (forget using these if you have a slot-drive iMac) with a custom label. Carry these in your wallet and hand them out at the next networking event. But the coolness factor doesn't come cheap. Be prepared to plunk down $500+ for the better package. And iPromote is a one way street without an online component.

SnapDat may be the best bridge between the print and digital card. You can upload your own card to your iPhone or create a new card including uploading your logo. You can have multiple cards so if you have a hobby, you can create a personal card you only give to friends or other hobbyists. Information and design can be unique for as many cards as you want. When you receive SnapCards, the contact info is automatically read and included in your contacts.

Sure, we are a long way from eliminating the paper business card, but clearly there are a lot of companies looking forward to the day when those little paper rectangles are in the Smithsonian next to the rotary dial telephone.

The key to successful business? Tap into the little visionary inside and start thinking about where you're going and what your industry will look like in five years. It's a good bet someone else is.