(Sept. 25, 2006) — I typically don't feel very old — until I pause to reflect on the changes technology has wrought on the news business since I joined Crain Communications Inc. in March 1980. When I first began writing news stories as a rookie reporter, it was on a typewriter, not a computer. (Do you remember carbon paper?)
When Crain transferred me to London in the fall of 1981 to edit its newly acquired European Rubber Journal monthly magazine, my correspondents across the continent filed their stories via Telex. Copy arrived in block capitals — we had to rekey it and call the correspondent to find out where the accents belonged. It was an amazing day when we got our first, magical fax machine.
Then came the Internet. Back in Akron, Ohio, I still vividly recall our Plastics News team in early 1996 working till the wee hours with our Web developer to try to get all the pages, content and links right before we switched on our Web site for the very first time. The Web — and its twin sister, e-mail — forever changed our lives.
The Internet changed Plastics News virtually overnight from a weekly business newspaper — already the highest-frequency publication in our market — into a global daily (no, make that hourly) news service. Today we can deliver our breaking news headlines and stories to readers in Frankfurt, SÃ£o Paulo, Shanghai, New Delhi and Sydney within minutes.
The Internet has had the same remarkable effect on how all in the plastics industry do business. Stop for a moment to ponder the e-Gold Rush days of 1999-2001. The dot-com boom. The Internet frenzy. I still have never seen anything quite like it in all my days of reporting.
Reasonable, intelligent bankers and venture capitalists could not thrust piles of money fast enough into the hands of anyone who put an “e” in front of the name of their proposed new business.
I can recall getting several news releases per week announcing new e-businesses that would serve — er, forever reshape — the plastics industry. Seasoned industry veterans left steady jobs for the thrill of a dot-com company with the promise of making them millionaires in stock options. A few got rich. Most did not.
Remember Commerx/PlasticsNet, SupplierMarket, Omnexus, Covisint, ChemConnect, CheMatch, FreeMarkets, Supplybase, Polysort, Elemica, etc.? To their credit, a few still survive, but nearly all with totally different business models from those with which they began.
But, through it all, Jack Welch got it right. The former chief executive officer of General Electric Co., which helped to pioneer some winning e-business principles, said amidst all the hoopla that e-business was not a business unto itself. It was “just another channel” through which to communicate with customers. Online procurement, while useful, has not rendered the human salesperson irrelevant. Relationships still matter.
There is no question that something did, indeed, “revolutionize” business as we know it today. It was the Internet. Now, if you forgive me, I have to get back to my e-mail.
Grace is Plastics News editor and associate publisher.