Scott Galloway's "The Four"
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
An ominous yet entertaining look at four of the world's mightiest companies
Google controls over 90% of the internet search market.
Over 60% of U.S. households subscribe to Amazon Prime.
Apple captures over 60% of the profits in the global mobile handset category
Facebook requires about 6 employees to generate $10M in revenue. WPP (a traditional advertising firm) requires about 60.
Amazon's effective federal tax rate 2007-2015 was 13% (Apple- 17%, Google- 16%, Facebook- 4%). The average rate for the S&P during that period was 27%.
The share of income going to the top 1% in the U.S. has doubled in the last 30 years while the share of income going to the bottom 50% has been essentially halved.
The share of income going to middle class households in the U.S. declined from 62% in 1970 to about 43% in 2018.
In the opening chapter of "The Four," Scott Galloway contends that Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook (and their corresponding economic sectors) should be the focus of the second year of business school. In his telling, these firms are so dominant that understanding them should be required study for those trying to operate in the modern business environment. He claims that everyone can benefit from learning the story of how these companies grew to prominence and how they now drive so many of our interactions with the world (economic and otherwise).
I've read very few business books. My news consumption is more focused on the larger economy and politics. But Galloway's main point is a good one; it's increasingly difficult to have a true understanding of our economic landscape without being in touch with "The Four." I'm familiar with Galloway through one of his podcasts ("Pivot" from Vox/New York Magazine). His style makes for entertaining listening as his diatribes against certain tech behemoths are laced with profanity and clever turns of phrase. He's a marketing professor at NYU Stern and I've found that he can competently explain some of the motivations and machinations of giant companies.
This is Galloway's first book and his plan seemed to be to drop his normal shtick onto the page without much consideration for how this medium differs from the ones he's had success with in the past. The profanity and sometimes off-color asides feel out of place at times, even though several had me chuckling. The book is replete with eye-popping statistics and sometimes his language makes the concepts memorable even if I will never be able to recall the actual figures (most of which are inaccurate now anyway).
Someone trying to gain a more in-depth understanding of these companies could likely do without the sections on the psychological underpinnings of certain corporate tactics or the final chapter that reads like a self-help book for those looking to climb corporate ladders. I'm sure there are whole tomes on those topics and their authors are probably more qualified than Galloway.
My favorite chapters were the ones on Apple and Google. Of "The Four," I'm least familiar with Apple and that company's positioning as a luxury brand was fascinating to me. The parallels Galloway draws between Google and God seemed a bit of a stretch but there were certainly some good insights there. His personal experiences as a New York Times board member were also interesting. The final chapter makes a compelling case for breaking these companies up but offers little in the way of a counterargument. The recent congressional hearing featuring the CEOs of these four companies offered some hints that more regulation and even anti-trust action could be possible in the future.
There are surely more serious books about each of these companies. But if you're looking for an entertaining overview that will leave you a bit better informed about these four enormously influential forces in our social/economic lives, you could do worse than "The Four."