Our core argument is that the power of platforms is deeply relational and based on ability to attract end users and partners like publishers.
It’s always hard to summarize extensive empirical work briefly, but here a few key points from my short Twitter thread on the book, with a few pics of some central passages in the book.
Platforms do not control the means of production, but the means of connection, and they are powerless without partners. To understand their power we need to understand both reservations partners have and why they often embrace platforms nonetheless, continue to work with them.
Platform power is an enabling, transformative, and productive form of power—and power nonetheless, tied to institutional and strategic interests of platform companies, often exercised in highly asymmetric ways.
It goes beyond hard and soft power. We identify five main aspects.
In the short run, actors make choices, in the long run, these choices become structures. Both platforms and partners have agency here, but there is a huge asymmetry between the biggest platforms (facing a few big platform rivals) and a multitude of much smaller publishers.
We approach platform power through an institutionalist lens, and focus on how it is exercised in relational ways through socio-technical systems that develop path-dependency and momentum over time and retain an imprint of their founding logics that shape ongoing interactions.
Our analysis is based on interviews across several countries, observation, background conversations, as well as on-the-record sources and more. In the methods appendix we reflect on individual and institutional positionality, including differences between the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism where I work and much of the research was done, and Simon Fraser University where Sarah now works.
The evolving relationships between platforms and publishers speaks to fundamental feature of the contemporary world – that not only individual citizens, but also social and political institutions, are becoming empowered by and dependent on a few private, for-profit companies
Very proud of the advance praise from colleagues with experiencing working in publishing companies, for platforms, as well as some leading academics researching digital media, including from Vivian Schiller, Nick Couldry, and José van Dijck. It means a lot to me personally to read what they kindly had to say about the book in advance of publication!
The research for this book was made possible by the prize money from the 2014 Tietgen Award, which funded Sarah’s position as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the associated research costs.
We would like to thank first of all our interviewees and everybody else who has talked to us, joined off-the-record discussions we hosted, invited us to events, and let us sit in on meetings. The book would not have been possible without them sharing their perspectives, and whether they agree with our analysis or not, we hope they recognize the processes they are part of in what we write about here.
In addition, many different colleagues and friends have provided generous (and often challenging!) feedback as we worked on this, including David Levy, the former Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and our many good colleagues there. Special thanks go to Chris Anderson, Gina Neff, Joy Jenkins, and Lucas Graves, who went through an entire draft manuscript with us and provided invaluable input. Daniel Kreiss and the anonymous reviewer helped further sharpen our thinking, and the series editor Andrew Chadwick went above and beyond in helping us develop our ideas. Fay Clarke, Felix Simon, and Gemma Walsh all did an outstanding job as research assistants at various stages of the project. Angela Chnapko at Oxford University Press masterfully guided us through the publication process.