Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Living With Monopolies

Like most of us, my life is pretty much controlled by 4 companies.  I am connected to their ubiquitous products throughout the day as they suck in my personal data, infiltrate my brain circuitry, and monetize me - directly from my wallet or, by brokering my time and data with advertisers. And although many of their products and services are extraordinary, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have too much power and will all either be severely regulated or broken up shortly. Of that I am confident. The wheels are already in motion. Google (via Youtube) and Facebook have unleashed nothing short of psychological weapons that they are unwilling and probably unable to control.  The growing outcry here and around the world will result in some form of government action that will impact all of them.

But in the meantime, I am making every effort to support companies who are thriving outside the current monopolistic structure. They are a small group for sure, with access to a limited amount of oxygen. (The breakup/regulation of the big 4 will unleash an extraordinary wave of startup innovation and activity, as breakups in the past have done.)

Reddit has certainly had issues harboring cesspools of awfulness like the other social platforms, and still does.  But they have cleaned it up dramatically and are now more known as a place for enlightened, civilized and informed content communities.  And Reddit is enormous and among the popular web sites in the world with more traffic than Twitter and Instagram. I find it a valuable platform on both a professional and personal level.  Their vibrant science and wildlife communities have sent millions of page views to Roaring Earth. And all of my most recent consumer purchases and medical decisions were informed to some degree by a high quality subreddit.

The New York Times
Who would believe that this 150 year-old company would be moving so nimbly in such a chaotic digital media environment.  Their digital subscription business is growing at similar rates as the most powerful tech companies, they are first movers in major new markets like podcasting, and are making impressive acquitions.  They bought Wirecutter for $30 million in 2016 and it is now a major player in the important and lucrative product review space.

But most importantly, they are expanding their reporting and editorlal teams and have become arguably the countr'ys most powerful beacon for strong and independent journalism.  They are also one of the few publishing companies that can and does give the middle finger to Google and Facebook.

I spend more time listening to podcasts than watching television these days, and Stitcher has been my only app since I streamed my first show over 4 years ago. According to wikipedia, they are “the most popular alternative to the standard Apple podcast app” which sounds like as a good a reason as any to support them.  Like all the best mobile apps, it's intuitive and user friendly.

Here's a company that can actually give Amazon a run for their money, and give some oxygen to my pals in e-commerce, who are as pinned against the wall as I am in publishing. My new favorite pundit, Scott Galloway said it well: “Shopify doesn’t operate its own marketplace, so it has no private label brands, and really is a platform as opposed to a competitor,” Galloway said. “Shopify has an opportunity to be the protein to Amazon’s virus and serve as a true partner to e-commerce firms."