Access to the “digital fief” comes at the cost of exorbitant rents. Varoufakis notes that many third-party developers on the Apple store, for example, pay 30% “on all their revenues”, while Amazon charges its sellers “35% of revenues”. This, he argues, is like a medieval feudal lord sending round the sheriff to collect a large chunk of his serfs’ produce because he owns the estate and everything within it.
This is not extracting profit through the production or provision of goods and services, as these platforms are not a “service” in the sense in which the term is used in economics. They are extracting rents in the form of the huge cuts they take from the capitalists on their platforms.
There is “no disinterested invisible hand of the market” here. The Big Tech platforms are exempted from free-market competition. Their owners – “cloudalists” – increase their wealth and power at a dizzying pace with each click, exploiting a new form of rent-seeking made possible by the new algorithmically structured digital platforms. Parasitic on capitalist production, they are now dominating it.