Today, a handful of companies that have colluded to keep wages down dominate the digital economy, in part by buying up any emerging competitors. Once we had bold notions of the internet helping to create an ever-expanding realm of options in the arts and journalism. In 1980, the late Alvin Toffler suggested in The Third Wave a “de-massified media.” Instead, we have Google controlling nearly 90 percent of search advertising, Facebook almost 80 percent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about 75 percent of American e-book sales, over forty percent of all online sales and, perhaps most important, nearly 40 percent of the world’s “cloud business.” Together, Google and Apple control over 95 percent of operating software for mobile devices. Microsoft still accounts for over 80 percent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.
Rather than the old science fiction meme of tyranny through machines, the tech giants are expanding their control of how we think. Rather than simply seeking to provide speedier pipelines, they want to control what is in the pipe. In this effort the oligarchs enjoy enormous advantages. Nearly two thirds of readers now get at least some of their news through Facebook and Google—two companies that employ no reporters and are often in fact hostile to them. This dominance is even greater, in both the U.S. and the U.K., among millennials who, by some account, are almost three times as likely to get their information from these platforms than from print, television or radio.
In some senses the traditional media doesn’t have a chance.