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Apple Installed Base (Number of Users)

For the second year in a row, Apple held a developers conference that should frighten its competitors. Relying on a nearly maniacal obsession with the user experience, Apple is removing oxygen from every market that it plays in.

At the same time, the tech landscape is riddled with increasingly bad bets, indifference, and a lack of vision. Apple is pulling away from the competition to a degree that we haven’t ever seen before.

Source: Above Avalon: Apple Is Pulling Away From the Competition

Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart says Apple is stealing a march on other technology companies. He says the company has made long-term decisions that mean its rivals will struggle to catch up.

The story needs to be read through a careful filter. Cybart is an Apple-watcher who writes about the company both from an investment point of view and from a Silicon Valley perspective.

This doesn’t necessarily make his analysis biased or wrong, it isn’t,  but it can lack broader context.

Coherence

Cybart’s main idea is that Apple has pulled now all its strands together. The range of products and services has a new coherence and a clear direction.

This, according to Cybart, comes at a time when Apple’s rivals are weakening.

Together these two trends have set up conditions that will move the company even further ahead of rivals over the next decade.

He makes a good case. Yet there are flaws in this line of thinking. Maybe flaw is too strong. Let’s say questions.

Samsung lack of vision

In the middle of the web post Cybart lists the ways Apple is beating key rival technology companies. He, rightly, notes that Samsung “remains rudderless from a product vision perspective.”

While that’s true, Samsung is a major component supplier to Apple and other hardware companies. If you look closely at Samsung’s financials, it’s clear the areas that compete with Apple are not central to Samsung’s profits.

The areas where the two companies co-operate are more important to Samsung.

Cybart correctly dismisses Google and Amazon as direct rivals. In the greater scheme of things their hardware products are inconsequential. Yet both remain on growth trajectories that could yet pose a threat to Apple.

Microsoft hardware

Microsoft’s hardware move has failed to alter the balance of power between Macs or iPads and Windows hardware. Cybart is right on the money when he says Surface mainly takes business away from Microsoft’s Windows partners.

Yet like Amazon and, to a lesser degree Google, Microsoft is powering ahead with cloud computing. These companies are building a significant digital world where Apple doesn’t play.

This is not a criticism of Cybart’s story. He is on the money as far as personal computer hardware and its immediate successor technologies are concerned. Apple does look set to dominate.

Beyond this there are parallel markets where Apple is, at best a bit player. These markets interact with Apple’s market. In the future they may interact in ways that are not yet clear.

Shorn of context, Apple is powering ahead. But let’s not forget Amazon and Microsoft are also powering ahead. Technology is not a simple zero-sum game.

Google published its New Zealand accounts for the year to December 31,2019 earlier today.

According to the company’s financial statement Google’s 2019 revenue was NZ$36.2 million. That’s more than double the $17.5 million it made in 2018.

Sales and marketing expenses for the year were $20.4 million. This compares with a shade over $3 million in the previous year.

Which leaves the company with a 2019 profit of $10.6 million. In 2018 the profit was $0.6 million.

More Google tax

It means Google pays more New Zealand company tax than in the past.

Google says its 2019 tax bill is $3.6 million. In the financial statement the income tax expense is listed as $2.5 million. Apparently the lower number is the tax paid during the 2019 year, while $3.6 million represents the total tax the company will pay.

It’s a lot more tax than in the past. Google paid around $400,000 for the previous year.

Yet it is nothing like the whole story. While Google may have booked $36 million of New Zealand revenue in 2019, the figure is only a small fraction of the total amount of business it did in the country.

Does not include everything

A simple back of an envelope calculation shows Google will have booked a total of well over $NZ500 million in advertising last year. The company also has a cloud computing operation, although that is small compared to its advertising business.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) estimates Google made around A$3.7 billion in Australia in 2018.

In 2018 Google changed the way it does business in New Zealand to what it calls its ‘reseller model’. Before that the local office was financed out of the Singapore operation.

Governments around the world are moving to close the loopholes that let tech giants like Google and Facebook avoid paying full local taxes in the countries where they do business. The US government objects to this.

New Zealand’s government has said it hopes to be part of an international approach to the problem and will work with the OECD. This has been slow to date and many countries, including Australia, are moving to introduce a digital services tax.

At The Conversation Massey University lecturer Victoria Plekhanova writes: Google and Facebook pay way less tax in New Zealand than in Australia – and we’re paying the price.

She says:

While the internet has created new opportunities for media and audiences alike, those opportunities have come at a price. Traditional media organisations now compete with giant digital platforms, not only for the attention of readers, but also for the advertising revenue that was once their lifeblood.

Adding insult to injury, the digital platforms compete for audiences’ attention partly by distributing the news content that was first created and published by those now-struggling media organisations.

This not only damages the media and public discourse, it is harmful to taxpayers.

Plekhanova says Google paid A$426.5 million in Australian digital service tax in 2018. That’s 66.5 times the amount of tax paid in New Zealand: “Given the New Zealand economy is about a seventh the size of Australia’s, this is an extremely wide disparity”.

There are also rules forcing Google and Facebook to compensate publishers when they piggyback off their original content.

The idea of a digital service tax isn’t that unusual. Other countries have a similar tax.

All of this makes sense. We let the overseas media giants freeload here. Part of their income depends on services that have been provided by taxpayers. Some of that income even comes direct from government agencies which buys advertising on the two social media giants.

It amounts to a net transfer from the New Zealand taxpayer’s pocket to social media investors: some of the richest people in the world.

Ideally the OECD would deal with this problem. But that’s been a long time coming and the money continues to flow in one direction only.

Plekhanova comes unstuck when suggesting taxing or charging tech giants will help local media survive. The damage was done ages ago. Survival depends on more than taxing the giants and anyway, up to a point the main local media outlets depend on the tech giants to reach their audience.

So, yes, let’s tax Google and Facebook like countries tax extractive industries. And, at least, stop pour government money into their coffers. But let’s not kid ourselves this is going to fix our media problems.

 

Mandatory code being developed by ACCC will create ‘level playing field’ in media landscape, Josh Frydenberg says

Source: Facebook and Google to be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies | Australian media | The Guardian

From the original story:

Facebook and Google will be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies after the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, instructed the competition watchdog to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the digital giants amid a steep decline in advertising brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the same steep advertising decline that has New Zealand media companies in a tail spin. Things have been tough for nearly 20 years. Depending on which set of numbers you read, Facebook and Google take as much as 85 percent of the advertising revenue that media companies once made.

Media extinction event

Elsewhere pundits have described the Covid-19 pandemic as the extinction trigger for traditional media. The comparison is with the meteor that wiped out most dinosaurs.

Frydenberg said it was only fair that media companies that created the content got paid for it.

“This will help to create a level playing field,” he said.

The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the decision was about a strong and sustainable news media ecosystem.

If we are realistic, it is too late to talk about a “strong and sustainable news media ecosystem”. Today’s game is all about survival.

Level playing field

Likewise “level playing field” is a nice idea, but we’re talking about a playing field where one side has 85 percent and the other has 15 percent.

Yet Frydenberg is correct when he says it is only fair that the media companies that create content should be paid for their work. The same goes for small publishers and individual journalists.

It’s correct to say Google doesn’t take much material from media companies. Often it isn’t much more than a headline and an opening paragraph. Although that is where most of the gold sits in a news story.

Google gives something back in the way of a link to the original story. Yet often, once a Google reader has seen the head and the opening par, the incentive to click a link has gone.

It’s more complicated with Facebook. Sometimes people cut and paste entire stories into Facebook posts. That means when someone reads the story in that timeline, Facebook gets to sell the advertisement, not the publisher.  It means Facebook gets rich on someone else’s work. But then that is the Facebook business model.

Dependency

The flip side of this argument is that media outlets are dependent on Facebook and Google to deliver those links to help readers find stories. It’s a form of dependency that means relying on the parasite that is eating you to also continue feeding you.

Australia’s approach may not be the best way of tackling the problem. Yet it is good to recognise that there is a problem and to attempt to tackle it.

If recent history is any guide, the big social media firms will resist. They will spend a fortune on legal and lobbying attempts to overturn the decision. By the time that fight draws to a conclusion there will a quite different media landscape.

“Some storytellers and influencers are also migrating from personal sites toward individual channels on Medium, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. But there’s a risk here — those creating and sharing unique content on these channels can lose ownership of that content. And in a world where content is king, brands need to protect their identity.”

As you might expect, Morrison is keen on changing the downward trajectory for domain name registration, but he has a valid point – why would you put the fate of your business in the hands of a platform owned by someone else? Sure, use Facebook etc to engage with your customers, but why not maintain control over your own brand? It baffles me, especially as creating a website is so much easier than it used to be.

Source: Why businesses aren’t picking domain names | ITP Techblog

At ITP Techblog Sarah Putt sees the issue of using Facebook or another social media site as a matter of branding.

She is right. Branding is important.

Yet the issue doesn’t stop there.

A site of your own

Not owning your own domain name, your own website, means you are not master or mistress of your online destiny. It’s that simple.

If you place your trust in the big tech companies, they can pull the rug at any moment.

This isn’t scaremongering. It has happened time and again. In many cases companies have been left high and dry. Some have gone under as a result.

The big tech companies care no more about the small businesses who piggyback off their services than you care about the individual microscopic bugs living in your gut.

Media companies learned this lesson the hard way. A decade or so ago Facebook and Google have made huge efforts to woo media companies. They promised all kinds of deals.

Many of those companies that went in boots and all are now out of business. Gone. Kaput.

Pulling the plug

Google pulled the plug on services like Wave and Google+ almost overnight after persuading media companies to sign up.

Big tech companies change their rules on a whim. Some of those whims meant cutting off the ways media companies could earn revenue.

Few media companies ever made any much money from the online giants. Those who managed to survive in a fierce and hostile landscape had nowhere to go when the services eventually closed. Many sank without a trace.

Sure, you may have heard stories about people who have made money from having an online business presence on one of the tech giants’ sites. You may also have heard stories about people winning big lottery prizes. The odds are about the same.

Yes, it can be cheap, even free in some cases, to hang out your shingle on Facebook or Google. But it is never really your shingle. It’s theirs.

The case for your own domain name

On the flip side, starting your own web site is not expensive. You can buy a domain name and have a simple presence for the price of a good lunch.

It doesn’t have to be hard work. You don’t need something fancy. And let’s face it, most Facebook companies pages are nothing to write home about either.

Use WordPress. It is not expensive. There’s plenty of help around to get you started.

The important thing is the site is entirely your property.

I often hear one argument in favour of working with Facebook. It goes somewhere along the lines of ‘fishing where the fish swim’. It’s true, your customers probably are on Facebook. There’s nothing to stop you from going there to engage with with them… just make sure you direct them to your independent web site.