DEFINITION of 'Obsolescence Risk'

The risk that a process, product or technology used or produced by a company for profit will become obsolete, and therefore no longer competitive in the marketplace. Obsolescence risk is most significant for technology-based companies or companies with products or services based on technological advantages.

BREAKING DOWN 'Obsolescence Risk'

Obsolescence risk is a factor for all companies to some degree, and is a necessary side effect of a thriving and innovative economy. This risk comes into play, for example, when a company is deciding how much to invest in a new technology. Will that technology remain superior long enough for the investment to pay off, or will it become obsolete so soon that the company loses money? Obsolescence risk also means that companies wanting to remain competitive and profitable need to be prepared to make large capital expenditures any time a major product, service or factor of production becomes obsolete. This is challenging because it can be difficult to predict obsolescence and to budget accordingly.

A publishing company, for example, is an example of one that faces obsolescence risk. As computers, tablets and smart phones have become more popular and affordable, increasing numbers of consumers have begun reading magazines, newspapers and books on these devices instead of in their print forms. For the publishing company to remain competitive, it must minimize its investments in the old paper publications and maximize its investments in new technologies. Even as it makes this shift, it must remain alert to new and unimagined technologies that could supplant the currently popular ways of reading and require still more investment.

The stock market "graveyards" are littered with dead companies whose products or technology were rendered obsolete. Examples are the technology companies Control Data and Digital Equipment from Morgan Stanley's 1982 “recommended” list.

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