It’s a common metaphor — we, the providers of content, are moving from something to something else — digital, Web 3.0, the age of mobile, semantics. The transport metaphor, in addition to giving rise to legions of travel agents and tour guides (i.e., consultants) and moving companies (e.g., vendors and design shops), has an inescapable absolutism to it. We are leaving one thing, bound for another.
One place we’re moving is to things called “platforms” — stylish, modern new types of living quarters — Apple Acres, Google Farms, and Amazon Woods. They call their apartments “apps.”
We’re excited about moving to these new platforms and owning an app or two of our own. All the other kids have an app. We should have an app. According to a recent post on ireaderreview, as we move into our app on the new platform, we think:
- We’ll have a great app.
- We’ll get guests for free.
- We’ll create a following.
- We’re in control.
- We’re a success.
But the platform landlords see it differently:
- Providers are building a piece of the platform. A piece the platform can throw away or replace with another near-identical piece.
- Providers get customers for free only at the start. If providers start to profit from these customers, and if the platform gains power, the provider has to pay a platform tax.
- Providers are providing value to the platform’s customers.
- The platform is in control.
- The platform is a success.
While we might complain that our independence, direct connection with our friends, and ability to make a living are all impeded by the dominance of these platforms, we feel like we have no other place to live. So, we continue to move into these platforms, reassured by the owners of these new properties that our friends already are partying there, or will want to party there soon. Our old digs — print, the browser, the desktop machine — those are where your parents partied, and they’re going to be bulldozed soon enough. If you want to be popular now and have a roof over your head in fi ve years, you’d better have a place with the platform owners.
Why move to a land of higher taxes? And why party with friends you can no longer get to know?
This is the challenge we face, a Hobbesian choice between fealty to plans like these and outright revolt.
But wait! It looks like something strange is happening twixt these property owners. Apple Acres and Amazon Woods have built atop one another, with Amazon Woods providing tenants to Apple Acres by the thousands — and now, Apple Acres wants to tax Amazon Woods itself for these tenants.
Another platform owner has become a provider. In Apple’s opinion, it’s clear the platform wins.
Even owning another platform can’t stave off the platform taxman. As Alan Quatermain puts it:
Apple decides that all iOS apps which have anything to do with purchased content must offer to sell that content in-app, giving Apple a 30% cut. At no point does Apple make any acknowledgement of the immense costs incurred in the management of such a catalog. They just want 30% of sale, but the seller must still bear all the costs of that sale. . . . They want us to inflate all our prices (across the board) so people will buy iPhones and shop at the iBookstore instead.
Meanwhile, Google Farms has taken note of the upcoming battle and created a way to bypass the strife — Google One Pass, a publisher payment system designed for magazine and newspaper publishers who wish to publish on various devices like tablets and smartphones. It means that:
. . . publishers can customize how and when they charge for content while experimenting with different models to see what works best for them—offering subscriptions, metered access, “freemium” content or even single articles for sale from their websites or mobile apps. The service also lets publishers give existing print subscribers free (or discounted) access to digital content.
One Pass takes a 10% cut of the revenues flowing through it, and offers a much less seamless integration than Apple’s payment system. Most significantly, publishers can set their prices and receive subscriber information via One Pass.
Platforms can be managed so that the owner competes fairly and transparently with its providers. Given the advantages this still creates for platform owners, Apple’s latest move seems greedy, domineering, and anti-competitive. Those contemplating moving onto that platform may want to consider the tax situation, which is now clearly different. Luckily, there are competitors of equal size and capability in the arena.
Or perhaps Apple’s just ahead of the game. Maybe providers and platforms are truly destined to be incompatible.