Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter first introduced the world to the concept of "creative destruction" by which, in his own words, sets forth a "fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion [and] comes from the new consumers, goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates."
In other words, just like in nature, business models and companies evolve over time. And if they don't, they eventually give way to new technologies or rivals or die out all together. Andy Obermueller, editor of the Game-Changing Stocks newsletter, is always on the hunt for firms that are already making shareholders significant profits for their successful, disrupting technologies. So I thought I would look into some areas I thought would be game-changers in the coming years myself and see if there was a potential way for investors to profit.
With that, here are five industries that I think could see significant disruption in the years ahead -- and the players that could end up toppling the incumbent giants.
The current software business model consists of buying a copy of a software program and copying it to your computer. This leaves the maintenance tasks and updates to the computer user or corporate IT department. But software as a service, or SaaS for short, consists of using the Internet to access a program for a fee and leaves the maintenance and updating to the provider of the software.
This has major potential implications for those that currently benefit from the current business model. For the leaders, it is highly lucrative, as it has scale advantages -- design the software once and sell it to a basically unlimited number of users. The new model could shift the advantage to those who fully embrace SaaS instead of fighting it to try and keep the current model intact. Amazon is a potential winner for providing servers to run all the software.
The music industry is a perfect example of fighting the migration of music to online servers and digital subscription services. Pure software providers, such as those listed above could benefit. Traditional providers could topple, but could also survive if they embrace the way the industry is shifting. [StreetAuthority contributor Tom Taulli recently gave his three favorite cloud computing clicks. Go here to read his article.]
Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP for short, is simply the use of the Internet to transmit traditional voice telephone calls. It is in pretty wide use already, but if firms like Google have their way, they will use it to put traditional phone companies out of business.
If VoIP really takes off, it would make the existing fixed line networks that AT&T and Verizon have spent billions building and maintaining for more than a hundred years obsolete. Google recently acquired Swedish firm Global IP Solutions to beef up its VoIP capabilities and has supposedly acquired a firm with cutting-edge technologies in the space.
Vonage is a pure play in the space and has struggled to prove that customers are willing to pay for VoIP, but it is quite clear that the incumbents would be toppled if a low-cost or free option were made available. This threatens every incumbent telecom provider out there and could benefit firms including Skype, which recently announced plans to go public and could benefit investors if it can create an economically-viable VoIP business model.
eReaders, including Apple's iPad, Amazon's Kindle, and even Barnes & Noble's Nook, are rapidly stealing market share from printed books. The iPad is an early leader, whose success is largely already priced into Apple's share price. Amazon's offering is a small part of its strategy to dominate online sales, but could represent another key growth avenue to its operations.
The main potential play for investors is if the advent of digital books completely destroys the traditional book retailers. Barnes & Noble is somewhat hedging its bets with the Nook, but still relies heavily on its bricks-and-mortar book stores. Borders is at a clear disadvantage to B&N and could easily meet its demise with the onslaught of eReader competition. [My colleague David Sterman thinks Barnes & Noble is in trouble, too (and could be a compelling short play). Click here to read his analysis.]
At some point in the future it will be possible to make payments and transfer money simply from your mobile phone. Of course, this is already possible on the web thanks to eBay's PayPal service. Certain features do exist on cell phones, but are limited and almost non-existent when transacting between two individuals.
Japan is a leading region for this type of technology and is offered by global telecom firm LM Ericsson. eBay is another clear leader that could benefit as it provides the technology over mobile phone networks. Leading payment processors including MasterCard and Visa are obvious beneficiaries, though as incumbent leaders, they could be toppled by more nimble competitors.
I won't spend too much time covering the waste-to-energy industry, as I did more thoroughly in a previous article. [Read that article here] But WtE has the potential to permanently alter the business models of traditional waste management firms such as Waste Management and Republic Services. The ability to literally turn garbage into energy is fascinating, and Covanta is a pure play in the space and a global provider of WtE facilities.
As I detailed in the previous article, Waste Management already has ambitions in the space. If it embraces this industry transformation, the company could grow into a global player in WtE, given its clear advantage of having a huge supply of waste to transform into energy.
Action to Take ---> As you may have noticed, many incumbents are also potential beneficiaries as long as they don't let creative destruction completely destroy their business models. In my mind, cloud computing and mobile transaction services have the greatest likelihood to be the most destructive to the status quo.
In terms of individual firms, Google, Amazon, and Apple are among the biggest disrupters, have already toppled larger rivals, and have healthy appetites for additional creative destruction going forward. But you may also want to look into some of the lesser-known disruptors on this list, such as Vonage or Covanta, and also be on the lookout for a Skype IPO in the near future.