Wasn’t too long ago that pundits predicted the end of physical storefronts.
Now, in an ironic twist, the very forces of digital commerce that were supposed to do in brick-and-mortar have become hot for commercial real estate.
Two of the biggest proponents are smart-home contenders Amazon and Google. The e-tailer has opened bookstores, pop-up shops and in-store Kohl’s sections across the country, while the search engine giant is plying its proprietary Home products via temporary holiday stores in New York and Los Angeles.
TWICE visited two of these physical manifestations, which provide further proof that the corner store is here to stay.
Late last month, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a brief post on Facebook at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, asking his friends for forgiveness not just for his personal failures but also for his professional ones, especially “the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together.” He was heeding the call of the Jewish Day of Atonement to take stock of the year just passed as he pledged that he would “work to do better.”
Such a somber, self-critical statement hasn’t been typical for the usually sunny Mr. Zuckerberg, who once exhorted his employees at Facebook to “move fast and break things.” In the past, why would Mr. Zuckerberg, or any of his peers, have felt the need to atone for what they did at the office? For making incredibly cool sites that seamlessly connect billions of people to their friends as well as to a global storehouse of knowledge?
Lately, however, the sins of Silicon Valley-led disruption have become impossible to ignore.
Facebook has endured a drip, drip of revelations concerning Russian operatives who used its platform to influence the 2016 presidential election by stirring up racist anger. Google had a similar role in carrying targeted, inflammatory messages during the election, and this summer, it appeared to play the heavy when an important liberal think tank, New America, cut ties with a prominent scholar who is critical of the power of digital monopolies. Some within the organization questioned whether he was dismissed to appease Google and its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, both longstanding donors, though New America’s executive president and a Google representative denied a connection.
Meanwhile, Amazon, with its purchase of the Whole Foods supermarket chain and the construction of brick-and-mortar stores, pursues the breathtakingly lucrative strategy of parlaying a monopoly position online into an offline one, too.
Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon have become world dominators, the question of the hour is, can the public be convinced to see Silicon Valley as the wrecking ball that it is?
These menacing turns of events have been quite bewildering to the public, running counter to everything Silicon Valley had preached about itself.
[Editor Charlie sez: This is what happens when Silicon Valley gets its paws on the food supply. But Amazon will get away with it, not least because the lawyer who kept Larry Page and Eric Schmidt out of the slammer for violating the Controlled Substances Act is on Amazon’s board of directors: Jamie Gorelick.]
Amazon is under fire for reportedly inflating prices as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.
However, some people have been disturbed to find wildly inflated prices for essentials such as water on the e-commerce site.
For example, a 24-pack of Aquafina — typically sold for less than $6 — was priced at $20. And, Deadspin editor Diana Moskovitz reported that a 24-pack of Nestle bottled water with expedited shipping was priced at $179.25.
Price gouging on essential items during emergencies is illegal in Florida, the Miami Herald reported. While Amazon is not based in Florida, the Florida Attorney General’s office told the Miami Herald that “If a business is selling an essential commodity to persons who are using it in Florida as a result of the emergency, the business may be subject to Florida’s price gouging law.”
[Editor Charlie sez: More on royalty deadbeat Facebook’s charm offensive, this time from Jim Cramer’s The Street featuring quotes from David Lowery. And notice–no mention of takers for the hillbilly deal offer.]
For years, Facebook chose not to pay licensing fees to music labels or songwriters despite the site’s billions of hours of uploaded music. The world’s most popular social media platform argued that because the site didn’t make it possible for users to search for a particular song, in the manner of Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) YouTube, it wasn’t using music to drive sales….
Yet as Facebook’s priorities have evolved, so has its view on music. As CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said of late, Facebook is focused on becoming a hub for premium video content, both from advertisers and users as well as original content for its Watch and other platforms.
As a result, Facebook has begun to negotiate licensing deals with the industry’s three major music labels as well as Merlin BV, which represents hundreds of independent distributors, according to a person familiar with the talks. A deal is likely to take place within months rather than years, the source said. News that Facebook had offered the labels hundreds of millions of dollars so that its users might legally upload music to the site was initially reported by Bloomberg on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
“It’s a major win for songwriters in that Facebook is actually admitting they need licenses,” said David Lowery, a lecturer in the music business program at the University of Georgia and frontman for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. “If you expect to get major brands to spend big money on video advertising that’s professionally produced, you absolutely need licenses. That’s what’s driving this.”
[Editor Charlie sez: Remember that most of these companies are in the MIC Coalition cartel that is colluding to destroy songwriters, and royalty deadbeat Facebook refuses to license at all.]
Until recently, it was easy to define our most widely known corporations. Any third-grader could describe their essence. Exxon sells gas; McDonald’s makes hamburgers; Walmart is a place to buy stuff. This is no longer so. Today’s ascendant monopolies aspire to encompass all of existence. Google derives from googol, a number (1 followed by 100 zeros) that mathematicians use as shorthand for unimaginably large quantities. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google with the mission of organizing all knowledge, but that proved too narrow. They now aim to build driverless cars, manufacture phones and conquer death. Amazon, which once called itself “the everything store,” now produces television shows, owns Whole Foods and powers the cloud. The architect of this firm, Jeff Bezos, even owns this newspaper.
Along with Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, these companies are in a race to become our “personal assistant.” They want to wake us in the morning, have their artificial intelligence software guide us through our days and never quite leave our sides. They aspire to become the repository for precious and private items, our calendars and contacts, our photos and documents. They intend for us to turn unthinkingly to them for information and entertainment while they catalogue our intentions and aversions. Google Glass and the Apple Watch prefigure the day when these companies implant their artificial intelligence in our bodies. Brin has mused, “Perhaps in the future, we can attach a little version of Google that you just plug into your brain.”
More than any previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolies aspire to mold humanity into their desired image of it.