This article is part of Technology Newsletter. You can Register here to receive it weekdays.
There’s a question at the heart of so many battles over digital life: Should we hold what happens on the internet to a higher standard than the old analog world ways?
It’s a link between concerns about selling products on Amazon, distributing apps on smartphone app stores, trying to make a living on YouTube, or renting on Airbnb. In all of those cases, residents and businesses are complaining about the costs, rules, and precariousness of operations that were even heavier than in the olden days, if they could.
Some of these complaints are misplaced and some reflect basic anxiety about living online. The Internet promises to improve the old ways, and it has eroded the power of old janitors, like Hollywood bosses or big boxers, to say yes or no to those who try. do what they love. But in their place are new and equally powerful digital gatekeepers, like Google and Apple, that can decide who wins or loses.
I’ve been thinking about this topic because of a recent email from an On Tech reader in Tucson named Susan, about app makers saying that Apple imposes unfair and complicated costs on them and their users. Iphone:
For years, crafters have shared profits with the store that sells their handmade items on consignment. When I started in the 70s, it was 60% for me and 40% for store owners. After this, the commission is sometimes 50/50.
This is why I’m a bit confused with the issue of App Store taking commissions for developers’ apps. What is the difference between the App Store and the store owner? Both are responsible for providing a place to display, ensuring quality for the buyer.
Susan isn’t invalidating the complaints of app makers, but she’s providing useful context: Here’s how it’s always been done, and often for good reasons.
Stores have long decided what products appear on their shelves and how much to promote them to potential shoppers. Apple is doing the same virtual thing for apps. And as Susan (and Apple) points out, regular stores often offer product retail price cuts much larger than Apple’s commissions of up to 30% on some app transactions like online video subscriptions. .
It’s understandable to compare the old world with the digital world and think: This new way is not surprising, is it? That’s a great point that I hear a lot from readers, and not just about Apple.
I’ve also heard people ask if it’s fair that some members of Congress are trying to change the law to stop Amazon from producing its own brands of coffee and women’s apparel to compete with merchants. on Amazon’s digital mall. After all, regular retailers have been doing the same thing forever with store versions of Tylenol and Cheerios. Why do people who make videos on YouTube or TikTok complain about the breakneck speed and unpredictable wages when making a living in entertainment is always difficult?
Those are fair points. But I also think those complaints reflect a mismatch between expectations and reality about the Internet. Now, anyone can create and post anything online, but it can be extremely hard to get noticed. Enter the new gatekeepers who can be just as powerful and capricious as the old ones.
Cat toy makers no longer need to convince stores to sell their products. She can set up her own website or sell on Amazon. But she might still have to spend a fortune advertising on Google or Amazon just to get noticed.
Likewise, a talented performer can create YouTube videos and skip trying to navigate the Hollywood studio system. But he is using random Google algorithms to get seen and eventually get paid. A person with a great idea for a video game can create an app more than convincing a big company to make a game, but she’s almost entirely at the mercy of the app store owners. like Google and Apple. (Dozens of attorneys general sued Google on Wednesday, alleging that the company abused its authoritarian app rights.)
It’s amazing that people can now reach billions of potential fans with just a few clicks. The old ways are heavy and difficult, but the frustration with the new ways is real.
Before we go…
It’s all Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook: In an excerpt from my colleagues’ new book on the company, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang detail how Facebook’s crises over the past five years have led to Sheryl Sandberg’s decline in influence. , the second holder of power of the company.
I need a database to keep track of all the tech lawsuits: Dozens of attorneys general have sued Google, the fourth antitrust lawsuit filed against the company by federal or state officials in the United States since October. This person accuses Google of abusing its power themselves against Android phones and force unfair terms on app makers. As reported by David McCabe and Dai Wakabayashi, the lawsuit also puts pressure on Apple, which runs its iPhone app store in similar ways.
HUGE KITTY: My colleagues Hikari Hida and Mike Ives write that the three-dimensional digital image of a “cat the size of a yacht” is attracting crowds and fans in Tokyo. The calico digital billboard pops up briefly to greet people and snooze a lot, just like real cats.
We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think about this newsletter and what you’d like us to explore. You can contact us at [email protected]
If you have not received this newsletter in your inbox, Please register here. You can also read columns On previous technology.