Online platforms aren’t simply replacing stores by replicating their function. Instead they are making themselves gatekeepers capable of controlling and regulating commerce — just as Steam regulates the weapon skins market — playing a decisive role in which sellers continue to exist and which workers get to show up to work tomorrow. Culture is constrained and warped by this gatekeeping dynamic, which not only maintains the existing monoculture — in which a few popular titles dominate markets — but intensifies it.
This is not a matter of goods or marketplaces being digital, but how digitality proves conducive to monopolistic domination. In Monopoly Capital (1966), Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy define what they call “epoch-making” technologies: those which radically reshape space and time — that “shake up the entire pattern of the economy and hence create vast investment outlets in addition to the capital they directly absorb.” [...]
In the 21st century, networked computing and phones have superseded autos as the epoch-making technology. If the previous age of monopoly capitalism was defined by cars, suburban landscapes, and regular trips to the department store, then our new age is defined by ride-sharing apps, gentrified landscapes, Prime Day sales, and the fulfillment centers that make it possible. Online connectivity — virtual assistants like Alexa, PCs with internet browsers, smart TVs with streaming services, and phone apps — all reduced the space and time consumers had to traverse to engage in commerce, but at the same time it has centralized it.
The resulting new monopoly capitalism has produced a new kind of consumerism — if not a new way of life, at least a new intensity of it — that passes principally through the gates of Amazon, Paypal, Venmo, Salesforce, Steam, Shopify, the iOS App Store, and other platforms. Amazon, for instance, is now larger by valuation than virtually all other retailers combined. Together, these platforms plug us into a more “frictionless” system of commerce: In exchange for a modest increase of speed and convenience, they etch themselves into our collective consciousness as we etch ourselves into their databanks as consumer profiles. The platform [...] You half-expect the word platform to be capitalized, like some Platonic ideal.
As commerce has consolidated into digital platforms, digital commodity production — which best suit the platforms’ economic advantages — has ramped up: skins in Counter-Strike and Fortnite and Twitch.tv’s “Cheer chat” badges, along with conventional digital products like games and Adobe’s software suites. These are capable of near-instant delivery and are more amenable to platform-sustained content restrictions: DRM, paywalls, subscriber access, and other forms of intermediate fees. The consolidation of retailing into platforms has also triggered the development of dropshipping — when a entity sells products it doesn’t have in stock and has them shipped from a third party directly to the consumer. As Alexis Madrigal reported, there are Instagram brands that don’t buy or sell goods but exploit aspirational lifestyle imagery and the platform’s advertising algorithms to lure customers. They simulate manufacturing and professional branding but exist only as social media accounts. All this may seem to diversify economic participation — so many products! so many retailers! — but the profits still flow to the a single monolithic place.
i should probably read monopoly capital tbh
(tagged as open source tho it's really about centralisation)