The Blurb On The Back:
What unites Google and Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, Siemens and GE, Uber and Airbnb? Across a wide range of sectors, these firms are turning into platforms: businesses that provide the hardware and software foundation for others to operate on. This transformation signals a major shift in how capitalist firms operate and how they interact with the rest of the economy: the emergence of ‘platform capitalism’.
Platform Capitalism critically examines these new business forms, tracing their genesis from the long downturn of the 1970s to the boom and bust of the 1990s and the aftershocks of the 2008 crisis. It shows how the foundations of the economy are rapidly being carved up among a small number of monopolistic platforms and how the platform introduces new tendencies within capitalism that pose significant challenges to any vision of a post-capitalist future. This book will be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the most powerful tech companies of our time are transforming the global economy.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Nick Srnicek is a Lecturer at City University, London and in this fascinating and timely book he analyses the activities of major tech companies in the context of the wider capitalist economy, drawing on examples from economic history (notably the dot com crash and 2008 financial crisis) to argue that data is being used to maintain economic growth amid the wider slow down in productivity and what this means for the future.
As someone who is not an academic (and certainly has no expertise in this area) I found the book very easy to follow. Srnicek divides the book into 3 chapters. The first chapter focuses on economic history to set out how the rise and development of technology companies (both software and hardware) fits into the wider capitalist system and the change in labour models that started in the 1970s downturn. Although it’s necessarily a canter through the various economic developments since World War II, I found it fascinating to see how Srnicek links the various events to form a coherent argument that I found compelling – especially the impact of monetary policy and expansion of tax havens has led tech companies to hoard cash while the wider economic trends have made labour markets more exploitative and less certain.
Chapter 2 describes what platform capitalism is and draws on themes set out in chapter 1, focusing on how the various platforms are all aimed at maximising the amount of data that they extract in order to turn it into a profitable product, while also minimising costs whether through ensuring that it doesn’t hold assets (such as AirBnB) or through outsourcing low skilled labour jobs and only retaining a highly skilled core labour force. This was, for me, the biggest eye opener with Srnicek pulling together different strands and elements to show how these businesses work in a way that has reinforced some of my perceptions of the sector and changing my opinion of others.
In the final chapter Srnicek attempts to draw out the likely future trends, notably the trend to monopoly but also how platforms need to improve their data extraction and utilisation in order to remain ahead of competing platforms that may otherwise compete with them. I was particularly interested in how Srnicek illustrates this with the rise of the internet of things and how big players such as Google are by turns investing and developing such products and the impact this has for personal privacy and the players’ revenue streams.
All in all, I found this an informative and fascinating read that taught me a lot about a sector I really only had a passing familiarity with and as such, I think it would be a good read for anyone who wants to know about what the media is so keen to tout as the future of capitalism.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.