Amazon’s market cap recently fell below $1 trillion, the lowest it’s been in years. This drop follows Covid-19 related growth that saw revenue increase by 200 percent. Combined with overlapping legislative efforts to codify “big is bad” and rein in Big Tech, this drop shows that market pressure is often better suited to introduce competition than government intervention.
Amazon isn’t the only tech giant experiencing drops. Meta — Facebook’s parent company — saw its shares plunge 24 percent last month. Apple stock declined 23 percent from last year. The causes for the reduction in market cap are numerous, but Wall Street analysts largely credit inflation, high interest rates and the value of the dollar with the decline.
The factors hampering Big Tech are the same ones impacting companies across the economy, showing that tech behemoths are not immune to the same market pressures that other companies face. While tech may appear to be in a world of its own, many of the companies that fit under the Big Tech banner are heavily reliant on advertising. When spending on advertising slows, tech companies suffer. Despite the concerns of antitrust enforcers regarding Big Tech’s size and competitive edge, the recent performance of these firms makes it clear they are not infallible.
One company in particular makes for a prime example of the effects of market pressure on reducing market share through competition. While Microsoft used to be considered a monopoly practically immune from competition, it now represents a relatively small portion of the markets it used to dominate.
In 1998 the Department of Justice (DoJ), as well as 20 states and the District of Columbia, filed a suit against Microsoft alleging it had a monopoly in operating systems. Many arguments in the Microsoft suit focused on the bundling of services — also referred to as self-preferencing. Despite all the focus on Microsoft’s supposed monopoly in operating systems in the 1990s, it currently occupies just over 30 percent of the global market share and is beaten by Android, which has over 42 percent.
The government also alleged that Microsoft had engaged in anticompetitive behavior regarding its internet browser. Experts speculate that restrictive contracts regarding browser use ultimately resulted in declining market share for Netscape, the first company to launch a browser.
While Microsoft undoubtedly had an interest in incentivizing the use of its own software, it should be noted that, despite legal complaints, the company was never forcibly broken up and instead came to an agreement on behavioral remedies. However, the practice of bundling software with Microsoft products continues today. Despite this bundling, Microsoft has not been able to block other competitors or maintain its dominance. Not only has its operating system share declined but it represents a minimal share of the global browser marketplace as well.
The ebbing of a former giant may be occurring again with the recent decline in users of Meta’s major social networking platform, Facebook. As Facebook experiences a drop in users, there’s speculation that Instagram will follow. Even the professional platform LinkedIn grew faster than Meta social media sites in 2021. It looks like Meta is designing the Metaverse to be the next platform to lure in users, but polling by Pew Research of experts’ perspectives on the platform shows that expectations of its performance are mixed.
While antitrust efforts may potentially have some cooling effect, according to MarketWatch proposed legislation is not the driver of cooling stocks, as it is not enough to scare away investors. Bad business moves, however, are enough. As Meta’s shares tanked by 24 percent, the company announced that it expects to lose even more money going into 2023 in building the Metaverse. Only time will tell if Meta’s gamble on the Metaverse pays off, but if not, it perfectly highlights that even tech giants like Microsoft and Meta are not immune to market pressures and miscalculations.
Despite a slew of antitrust complaints, the legal suits brought against Microsoft did not result in the company breaking up. Current market shares show that the company, while once accused of being a monopolist it has not remained in that position. Even if lawmakers reject the well-accepted economic position that large firms can use their size to maximize consumer benefits, they should at least recognize the ability of market competition to challenge the status quo.
Tirzah Duren is a policy analyst at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. You can follow her work on Twitter @ConsumerPal.