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Platform Capitalism

by Nick Srnicek

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1162207,582 (3.5)None
What unites Google and Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, Siemens and GE, Uber and Airbnb? Across a wide range of sectors, these firms are transforming themselves 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. This book 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 fundamental 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."… (more)
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Livrinho sobre o capitalismo hodierno, chamado pelo autor de "de plataforma", por identificar 5 tipos destas, todas a trabalhar a partir de dados como material prima. Seriam: plataformas de propaganda (google, facebook), de nuvens (aws, salesforce), industriais (general electrics, siemens), de produto (rolls royce, spotify), magras (uber, airbnb). Começa com um capítulo que força no economês (leigos como eu terão dificuldades), traçando uma história rápida que leva à crise do subprime de 2008, que teria preparado a transição ao estado atual. O capítulo 2 informa sobre o funcionamento das plataformas e desfaz alguns mal entendidos sobre o assunto (mostrando o que é a materialidade dos dados e as implicações de cada opção de orientação de ação). Também enfatiza a diferença do estado atual em relação as plataformas e seu modelo monopolista, bem como suas práticas financeiras diferenciadas. O terceiro traça tendências e faz algumas proposições de como começar a pensar um modo menos exploratório de lidarmos com a noção de plataforma, retirando-o de um inexorável movimento de aprofundamento da exploração capitalista. ( )
  henrique_iwao | Aug 30, 2022 |
"The argument of this book is that, with a long decline in manufacturing profitability, capitalism has turned to data as one way to maintain economic growth and vitality in the face of a sluggish production sector."

The above quote from the book is true, in a roundabout way. I'm quite certain - without verifying it - that Nick Srnicek does not really like capitalism; I'm completely with him, if that is the case. You've already guessed my stance on the matter, that it's likable to me much as somebody feeling you up without getting an OK, albeit while nabbing my pension and making damn sure my potential offspring won't survive me because of the climate kills on the planet (courtesy of capitalists).

The book concentrates on how "low-level jobs"(N.B. not the author's words, but those of Alan Greenspan), or really, any jobs that won't hurt your mates in high-level management:

"Early outsourcing involved jobs with goods that could be shipped (e.g. small consumer goods), while non-tradable services (e.g. administration) and non-tradable goods (e.g. houses) remained. Yet in the 1990s information and communications technologies enabled a number of those services to be offshored, and the relevant distinction came to be the one between services that required face-to-face encounters (e.g. haircuts, care work) and impersonal services that did not (e.g. data entry, customer service, radiologists, etc.).

"The former were contracted out domestically where possible, while the latter were under increasing pressure from global labour markets. Hospitality provides one illuminating example of this general trend: the percentage of franchised hotels in the United States raised from a marginal figure in the 1960s to over 76 per cent by 2006. Alongside this, there was a move towards contracting all other work associated with hospitality: cleaning, management, maintenance, and janitorial services. The drivers behind this shift were to reduce benefits and liability costs, in an effort to maintain profitability levels. These changes inaugurated the secular trends we have seen since, with employment being increasingly flexible, low wage, and subject to pressures from management."

On how states resolve the critical and horrific problems caused by banks and corporations:

"The immediate response was quick and massive. The US Federal Reserve moved to bail out banks to the tune of $700 billion, provided liquidity assistance, extended the scope of deposit insurance, and even took partial ownership of key banks. Through massive bailouts, support for faltering companies, emergency tax cuts, and a series of automatic stabilisers, governments undertook the burden of increasing their deficits in order to ward off the worst of the crisis. As a result, the high levels of private debt before the crisis were transformed into high levels of public debt after the crisis."

On how the biggest tech companies today have more money than most others:

"Google’s total is enough to purchase Uber or Goldman Sachs, while Apple’s reserves are enough to buy Samsung, Pfizer, or Shell."

...and, most importantly, how the new tech companies, like the aforementioned, get their monies:

"The activities of users and institutions, if they are recorded and transformed into data, become a raw material that can be refined and used in a variety of ways by platforms. With advertising platforms in particular, revenue is generated through the extraction of data from users’ activities online, from the analysis of those data, and from the auctioning of ad space to advertisers. This involves achieving two processes. First, advertising platforms need to monitor and record online activities. The more users interact with a site, the more information can be collected and used. Equally, as users wander around the internet, they are tracked via cookies and other means, and these data become ever more extensive and valuable to advertisers. There is a convergence of surveillance and profit making in the digital economy, which leads some to speak of ‘surveillance capitalism’."

This is where the book intensifies in interesting-ness:

"While the data extraction model has been prominent in the online world, it has also migrated into the offline world. Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers, owns Dunnhumby, a UK-based ‘consumer insights’ business valued at around $2 billion. (The US arm of the company was recently sold to Kroger, one of America’s largest employers.) The company is premised upon tracking consumers both online and offline and using that information to sell to clients such as Coca-Cola, Macy’s, and Office Depot."

That's not the limit on that:

"Siemens has spent over €4 billion to acquire smart manufacturing capabilities and to build its industrial platform MindSphere, while GE has been working rapidly to develop its own platform, Predix. The field has so far been dominated by these established companies rather than being subject to an influx of new start-ups."

Also:

"Simultaneously, more and more diverse information about customers is being tracked (to the point where the company is even suggesting using wearables as a source of customer health data)."

The biggest companies can afford to lose money like hell and still make a major profit, due to how capitalism works, with little risk:

"By all accounts, the Amazon Prime delivery service loses money on every order, and the Kindle e-book reader is sold at cost. On traditional metrics for lean businesses, this is unintelligible: unprofitable ventures should be cut off. Yet rapid and cheap delivery is one of the main ways in which Amazon entices users onto its platform in order to make revenues elsewhere. "

Nike set the bar early:

"In the 1990s Nike became a corporate ideal for contracting out, in that it contracted much of its labour to others. Rather than adopting vertical integration, Nike was premised upon the existence of a small core of designers and branders, who then outsourced the manufacturing of their goods to other companies. As a result, by 1996 people were already voicing concerns that we were transitioning to ‘a “just-in-time” age of “disposable” workers’."

"Self employment" is a precarious word that'll pop up more and more; women already know what it's like, but us white males (I'm one) feel the flames, which is funny, although there's nothing funny about capitalism at all:

"Advantages in data collection mean that the more activities a firm has access to, the more data it can extract and the more value it can generate from those data, and therefore the more activities it can gain access to. Equally, access to a multitude of data from different areas of our life makes prediction more useful, and this stimulates the centralisation of data within one platform. We give Google access to our email, our calendars, our video histories, our search histories, our locations – and, with each aspect provided to Google, we get better predictive services as a result. Likewise, platforms aim to facilitate complementary products: useful software built for Android leads more users to use Android, which leads more developers to develop for Android, and so on, in a virtuous circle."

"We can get a sense of how significant these monopolies already are by looking at how they consolidate ad revenue: in 2016 Facebook, Google, and Alibaba alone will take half of the world’s digital advertising. In the United States, Facebook and Google receive 76 per cent of online advertising revenue and are taking 85 per cent of every new advertising dollar."

Pushback is a lovely word:

"The calculations of one class action lawsuit estimate that Uber would owe its drivers $852 million if they were employees (Uber claims it would only be $429 million). The result of pushback is likely to be an economically unsustainable business, once basic worker rights are given to employees."

"But any efforts to transform our condition must take the existence of platforms into account. Having a proper understanding of the current conjuncture is essential to creating strategies and tactics adequate to our moment. While platforms do not look set to overcome the fundamental conditions of the long downturn, they do appear to be consolidating monopoly power within their grasp, as they collect immense wealth. As they reach out further and further into our digital infrastructure and as society becomes increasingly reliant upon them, it is crucial that we understand how they function and what can be done. Building a better future demands it."

I'd love to have seen more of Noam Chomsky's positivism in here, on how individuals who band together can and do actually change the future, á la how the people of Armenia recently toppled "their" horrifically corrupt government and did this without severe bloodshed.

There are simple ways. Companies won't win without the workers, and there's always some low-level being who needs to tend to the robots, regardless of Google, Amazon, and Apple's willingness to start up their own Skynets while reaping the monetary benefits. From Mars. ( )
  pivic | Mar 21, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nick Srnicekprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blouin, PhilippeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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AINSI VIVRIONS- NOUS dans une époque de grandes transformations. Des expressions comme l’« économie du partage » (sharing economy), l’« économie de la pige » (gig economy) ou la « quatrième révolution industrielle » sont brandies à tout propos, faisant miroiter les images séduisantes de la flexibilité et de l’esprit d’entreprise. [...]
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What unites Google and Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, Siemens and GE, Uber and Airbnb? Across a wide range of sectors, these firms are transforming themselves 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. This book 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 fundamental 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."

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