– Derek Mathers, Business Development Manager, Worrell
We are at the brink of a very interesting paradigm shift in economic and legal history, where the fabrication of physical objects is becoming as democratized and accessible as computer processing. Decreases in the price of digital fabrication (3D printing) along with improvements in the mechanical capabilities and materials for the application have shown exponential adoption for personal and commercial purposes.
How do manufacturers feel about this? Nintendo is scared. The Tokyo-based company is currently opposed to the 3D printing of their characters, fearing that it would disrupt their physical sales, displacing their retail partners. However, some suggest that 3D printing may offer new possibilities for Nintendo to profit from the printing of their characters, at fraction of the cost of their current channels.
In this new model, it’s conceivable for Nintendo to recognize a staggering increase in profit from selling files of its characters, rather than physical products, completely negating the need for tooling, production, logistics, etc. In this arrangement a Super Mario action figure could be purchased via a secure product-streaming platform, hosted by Nintendo. From the customers’ perspective, he/she receives near-instant access to a customizable, manufactured-like product without a trip to a local retailer or Amazon.
This sounds like a wonderful future, but it’s not without its risks. As a parallel, it may be helpful to look at the growth 3D printing less like that of standard 2D printing, and more like the music industry of the last 20 years. If you recall, artists and studios lost billions as barriers to “music fabrication” were reduced from capital-intensive investments and expensive studio equipment to a laptop computer. On top of that we saw a cataclysmic wave of piracy that nearly engulfed the industry.
Then the business model changed. Digital music services such as Spotify and Soundcloud now provide on-demand access at a reasonable price point, while simultaneously eliminating piracy.
Exposed to same pressures, the key for the world of physical products is likely to be a similar ecosystem, where digital services provide verified, high-quality 3D files for home and commercial printing.