Antitrust and Aggregation – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Source: Antitrust and Aggregation – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

The European Commission’s antitrust case against Google is likely to be the first of many against aggregators, because the end game of Aggregation Theory is monopoly.

To briefly recap, Aggregation Theory is about how business works in a world with zero distribution costs and zero transaction costs; consumers are attracted to an aggregator through the delivery of a superior experience, which attracts modular suppliers, which improves the experience and thus attracts more consumers, and thus more suppliers in the aforementioned virtuous cycle. It is a phenomenon seen across industries … The first key antitrust implication of Aggregation Theory is that, thanks to these virtuous cycles, the big get bigger; indeed, all things being equal the equilibrium state in a market covered by Aggregation Theory is monopoly: one aggregator that has captured all of the consumers and all of the suppliers. … One more implication of aggregation-based monopolies is that once competitors die the aggregators become monopsonies — i.e. the only buyer for modularized suppliers. And this, by extension, turns the virtuous cycle on its head: instead of more consumers leading to more suppliers, a dominant hold over suppliers means that consumers can never leave, rendering a superior user experience less important than a monopoly that looks an awful lot like the ones our antitrust laws were designed to eliminate.

interoperability and API disclosure — could be solutions when it comes to defusing the market power of aggregators

the broader point underlying Aggregation Theory holds: the (metaphorical) rules have changed, and it’s fair to believe that at some point the laws may have to as well. It won’t be easy, though, and the possibility of unintended consequences will be strong, particularly given the self-corrective resiliency tech has shown to date that provides a compelling argument for leaving well enough alone.