When Tim Cook and his fellow executives hit the stage for Apple’s event on March 25, it was to announce a major strategic pivot. The company knows that its markets for iPhones, iPads, and Macs are stagnating, a trend unlikely to change anytime soon. That means Apple needs to sell its customers something else.
“Apple’s reinvention as a services company starts for real,” declared Bloomberg after Apple announced a series of new services that will demand subscriptions: Apple TV+ to stream movies and TV shows, Apple News+ to aggregate news publications, Apple Arcade to play games, and an Apple Card to pay for it all. With Apple’s gigantic, built-in user base, financial analysts estimate the company could reach 100 million subscriptions in just a few years, creating “a $7 billion to $10 billion annual revenue stream over time.”
Apple is doing more than just responding to competitive pressures — it is following the shift in how technology is being used to change notions of property ownership and profit accumulation. Facebook, Uber, and Netflix build platforms and provide services, inserting themselves into social relationships, economic transactions, and personal consumption. They mediate the everyday activities of our lives and collect valuable data about our behaviors and interests. And, crucially, they charge for access — not for ownership, which increasingly seems outdated.
What these companies are doing is actually revitalizing of an old form of rentier capitalism that we tend to associate with landlords and feudalism.
Rather than representing some disruptive new “subscription” paradigm, however, what all these companies are doing — including Apple — is revitalizing of an old form of rentier capitalism that we long associated with landlords and feudalism.