As the net matures, are we seeing a new phalanx of gatekeepers gathering to complement the old ones?
Four companies striving to control great parts of the Internet economy; Google in the search market, Facebook for social media, Amazon in e-commerce and Apple in mobility.
Of the four, Apple seems to be the furthest along this path as the iTunes store coupled with the market take up of iPad, iPhone and iPod combination are beginning to dominate the mobile device segment of the Internet.
This is illustrated by two stories in recent days; the first is News Corporation’s deal to develop a dedicated iPad “newspaper” and the other Robert Scoble’s description of how Application developers are increasingly focused on the Apple platform.
The telling part of Scoble’s story is where he speculates how the tech media could be being rendered irrelevant by Apple’s control of the iTunes store, he goes on to say;
“Do app developers need the press anymore?
They tell me yes, but not for the reason you might think.
What’s the reason? Well, they suspect that Apple’s team is watching the press for which apps get discussed and hyped up.”
Scoble’s article is interesting in how Apple’s dominance of the distribution chain allows them to bypass other media channels; why go to Facebook or Google, let alone your local newpaper to find out what the hottest new apps are?
Even more fascinating is how Apple’s control of its distribution channels ties in with its dominant hardware platform, this is the online equivalent to one company owning the paper mill, the presses, the trucks and the news stands then forcing every magazine and newspaper publisher to work them.
It’s instructive that despite the real risk that Apple could end dictating all terms to those who rely on iTunes as their publishing platform, newspaper publishers are locking themselves onto this world. This is despite the publishers spending the last two decades shoring up profitability by reducing margins to their news sellers and delivery agents.
Despite these risks, News Corporation isn’t holding back after Rupert Murdoch described the iPad as “a fantastic invention”, across the empire various outlets are promoting their iPad applications, including the New York Post, London Sun and the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
It will be very interesting to see how this alliance between an old and a new media empire will turn out.
Meanwhile the new empires are jostling each other where they meet, Google’s latest spat with Facebook over data is just one of many skirmishes and we can expect to see many more as the big four explore the boundaries of their businesses.
The real question for us is how do we see ourselves working with these empires. Will we reject them, or will we accept that doing business with Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon is the easiest way of getting on with our online lives?
If it’s the latter then we’ll have seen the old gatekeepers of the media, retail and communications simply replaced by new, bigger toll collectors.