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MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS by Jonathan Taplin
Jonathan Taplin’s MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy (Little, Brown; April 18, 2017) is the riveting story of the hijacking of the Internet and subsequent rise to power of three tech behemoths that have unprecedented influence over the way we live.
In the 1990s, a group of libertarian entrepreneurs (including Peter Thiel and Larry Page) began to shape online life around the values that benefited their companies. Overlooking piracy, hiding behind opaque business practices, and subordinating the individual privacy of their users, the founders of Facebook, Google, and Amazon built up an industry predicated on appropriated content and surveillance marketing. The result has been a massive reallocation of funds that’s granted these monopoly platforms power and political influence on par with Big Oil. More creative content is being consumed today than ever before, but less revenue is flowing to the creators of that content. As MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS makes clear, we can no longer ignore that the companies serving as our access point to information are more committed to capitalism than to democracy.
The enormous profits that have come with this concentration of power tell their own story. Since 2001, newspaper and music revenues have fallen by 70 percent. Book publishing, film, and television profits have also fallen dramatically. Revenues at Google in this same period grew from $400 million to $74.5 billion. Google’s YouTube controls 60 percent of the streaming audio business and pays only 11 percent of the streaming audio revenues. In total, $50 billion has migrated from the creators of content to owners of monopoly platforms. But it’s not just a problem for the media industry—they were just the first to have their content digitized. Some economists estimate that by 2050, 47 percent of jobs will be automated—including the work of accountants, lawyers, and retail sales people.
With the reallocation of money comes a shift in power. Google, Facebook, and Amazon now enjoy political power on par with Big Oil and Big Pharma, and the rules that govern most of the economy—regarding taxes, antitrust regulation, and intellectual property law—simply don’t apply to the tech monopolies. Ultimately, Taplin argues, the rapid growth and unrestricted pricing by tech companies may be the single biggest factor driving income inequality.
The stakes in this story go far beyond the livelihood of any one musician or journalist. Taplin vividly brings to life the role that the average consumer plays, as we trade our privacy for the efficiency of a platform-driven online life. But Taplin also shows that there is a resistance brewing. Support for antitrust enforcement is growing. Small companies are starting to leverage the power of innovation against the behemoths. And an increasing number of co-operatives are forming, making it possible for artists to take home a larger cut of the profits their content creates. Taplin imagines a redesign of the World Wide Web and the firms that dominate it. He proposes specific regulatory and business solutions that could help “re-decentralize the Internet” and lead to a new American Renaissance. Studded with unforgettable stories from Taplin’s half-century career as a music and film producer and early pioneer of streaming video online, MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS offers a vital, forward-thinking prescription for how artists can reclaim their audiences using knowledge of the past and a determination to work together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Taplin is the Director Emeritus of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and a former tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band, as well as a film producer for Martin Scorsese. An expert in digital media entertainment, Taplin is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and sits on the California Broadband Task Force and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s Council on Technology and Innovation.