One of the great privileges of being an established newspaper is having a national platform to discuss the important issues of our time. Few things inspire the citizens of our great nation to contemplate, discuss, and take action on these defining issues like a well run newspaper. Of course, another use for such an honoured platform is to do what newspaper publishers are doing now, grovel for a $350 million bailout from the federal government because the internet destroyed their business model. (1)
Just so the newspaper industry doesn't feel alone, here are 5 other business models that were completely destroyed by the internet. Without a national platform to opine for a bailout, these businesses went gently into that good night. It seems the newspaper industry isn't going to be so noble, but they'll be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century eventually.
1: Travel agents
Believe it or not, there was a time you had to actually leave your house (or put on pants) to book a flight or a vacation. I cannot speak for this first hand but to do this you once had to enter what was called a “travel agency” where you would speak to a “travel agent”. Airlines would sell tickets to travel agencies and they would get a commission for selling them in turn to consumers. Now of course, you can just do this yourself in the comfort of your own home. I am told that some travel agencies still exist to sell cruise vacations to those in their golden years.
Before Wikipedia (which of course you never use for your research papers) and before Dad’s across the world became weirdly obsessed with Encarta, there were physical Encyclopedias. People would go door to door trying to sell these great big beasts of books neatly segregated into alphabetical volumes. Primarily, they were used to impress their friends and neighbours with all the knowledge available to the owner which was never used. They were also so expensive that purchasers were often offered the ability to pay in installments!
3: Printed maps
A key element of the 90s road trip was making sure you were stocked with maps for the entire route. I remember being handed a map with a pre-recorded route written in pencil and highlighting our progress as we drove along. The navigator was a stressful and cherished role in our household, after all it came with front seat privileges. Today, it’s hard to believe that maps once had a use beyond sprucing up sparsely decorated walls in dorm rooms across the nation.
4: Video Rental Stores
Another clutch element of 90s life was the video rental store. What child of the 90s doesn’t remember how unkind it was to fail to rewind VHS tapes before returning them? If you’ve ever complained about spending hours scrolling through Netflix to find something to watch remember: you used to have to do this with physical shelves in public. Going to the local Blockbuster and picking up Space Jam for the 15th time was an important part of my childhood. Seriously, Michael Jordan starred in a movie where he was recruited by the Looney Toons to play basketball against a group of cartoon aliens.
5: Printing and delivering the Yellow Pages
If your entire bookshelf wasn’t already clogged with alphabetized editions of Encyclopedia Britannica then you had room for the colossus known as the Yellow Pages. Before you could just search for phone numbers and business addresses online you had to look them up in your own delivered copy. Paper boys across the nation lugged thousands of copies of this behemoth from house to house for so little money it's astounding it didn't violate child labour laws.