Here is how platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to create matters better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a "two-sided market," where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.
When a platform starts, it needs users, so it makes itself valuable to users. Think of Amazon: For numerous years, it operated at a loss, using its access to the capital markets to subsidize everything you bought. It sold goods below cost and shipped them below cost. It operated a clean and useful search. If you searched for a product, Amazon tried its damndest to put it at the top of the search results.
This was a hell of a good deal for Amazon's customers. Lots of us piled in, and lots of brick-and-mortar retailers withered and died, making it hard to go elsewhere. Amazon sold us ebooks and audiobooks that were permanently locked to its platform with DRM, so that every dollar we spent on media was a dollar we'd have to give up if we deleted Amazon and its apps. And Amazon sold us Prime, getting us to pre-pay for a year's worth of shipping. Prime customers begin their shopping on Amazon, and 90 percent of the time, they don't search anywhere else.
That tempted in lots of business customers—marketplace sellers who turned Amazon into the "everything store" it had promised from the beginning. As these sellers piled in, Amazon shifted to subsidizing suppliers. Kindle and Audible creators got beneficiant packages. Marketplace sellers reached big audiences and Amazon took low commissions from them.
This strategy meant that it became progressively harder for shoppers to find matters anywhere except Amazon, which meant that they only searched on Amazon, which meant that sellers had to sell on Amazon. That's when Amazon started to harvest the surplus from its business customers and send it to Amazon's shareholders. Today, Marketplace sellers are handing more than 45 percent of the sale toll to Amazon in junk fees. The company's $31 billion "advertising" program is really a payola scheme that pits sellers against each other, forcing them to bid on the possibility to be at the top of your search.
Searching Amazon doesn't produce a list of the products that most closely match your search, it brings up a list of products whose sellers have paid the most to be at the top of that search. Those fees are built into the cost you pay for the product, and Amazon's "Most Favored Nation" requirement for sellers means that they can't sell more cheaply elsewhere, so Amazon has driven prices at every retailer.
Search Amazon for "cat beds" and the entire first screen is ads, including ads for products Amazon cloned from its own sellers, putting them out of business (third parties have to pay 45 percent in junk fees to Amazon, but Amazon doesn't charge itself these fees). All told, the first five screens of results for "cat bed" are 50 percent ads.