Winner Take All is the Rule, Not the Exception, And Always Has Been

Some observers find troubling (and unusual) the present market structure of the internet apps industry, where a “winner take all” pattern tends to exist. Historians will argue that such patterns are absolutely normal, in any industry, and have been the case in the pre-internet era as well.

In other words, "winner take all" is not the result of a broken market, but instead the normal and expected outcome in any competitive market, in any era, and not just in the internet age.

For that reason, it is not so clear that "winner take all" trends in the app business are necessarily the result of a broken market. That is the shape markets tend to take. In fact, what is unusual are markets where the 6:3:1 pattern does not exist.

As a rule, any market or industry will tend to see a huge difference between the leader and number two and number three providers, in terms of market share, with a corresponding difference in profit margin.

So a classic market share structure would have something like a 60-30-10 pattern (or 55-27-18 if you want absolute fidelity to the rule). The key point is that pre-internet markets tended to be “winner take all.” That is not new, nor necessarily evidence of market failure.

So winner take all is the rule, not the exception, in most markets, and has been the case even before the internet ecosystem was created. The classic pattern is that the leader in any market  has twice the share of the second provider, which in turn has twice the share of number three.

You can see the pattern in app use. U.S. smartphone users spend nearly half their digital media time on their most-used app, with a long tail of lesser-used apps, comScore data shows. Tablet users spend 60 percent of their time on the most-used app.


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