Platform aggregators and monopoly power, oh my

What’s your take on online platforms like Amazon marketplace, AirBnB, Uber, Orbitz, and countless others?

Wired has an article about Spotify suing Apple for abusing its platform power (specifically, crippling their ability to interact with their own customers if Spotify declines to use Apple’s in-app purchase system.

The Swedish audio-streaming giant lodged a complaint against Apple with the European Commission on Wednesday, accusing the company of abusing its position as owner of the App Store to stifle competition. Specifically, Spotify says that by charging a 30 percent tax on in-app purchases, Apple forces app developers to make an impossible choice: Either pass those costs on to consumers, or refuse to pay the commission and face a litany of technical hurdles imposed by Apple. Spotify, which competes directly with Apple Music, argues that this constitutes an unfair advantage for Apple.

Read up on it here:

A key quote from Spotify’s concern:

Ek also points out specific ways that Apple’s behavior could result in increased prices for consumers. If Spotify were to pay Apple’s commission, he says, it “would force us to artificially inflate the price of our Premium membership well above the price of Apple Music.” That’s important because antitrust law in the United States places a major emphasis on how competition affects consumer pricing.

Apple has already been fined for using it monopoly power to affect pricing:

Apple has faced antitrust enforcement action in the past over its impact on market costs. In 2012, the Department of Justice accused Apple of conspiring with publishers to raise the prices on their ebooks and withhold books from Amazon’s Kindle platform, which had imposed a $9.99 flat rate on ebooks. Apple fought the charges, but ended up paying $450 million in fines after losing in the Supreme Court.

Some criticism has been lodged against some politician’s policy proposals to divorce platform creators from selling on their own platforms (e.g. Apple Music competing on its own App Store with Spotify).

That suggestion elicited swift criticism, including from Stratechery’s Ben Thompson. “Is Senator Warren seriously proposing that smartphone be sold with no apps at all? Was Apple breaking the law when they shipped the first iPhone with only first-party apps?” Thompson wrote. “At what point did delivering an acceptable consumer experience out-of-the-box cross the line into abusing a dominant position? This argument may make sense in theory but it makes zero sense in reality.”

Reading Stratechery’s aggregator theory work is fascinating, and while I disagree with his criticism above —the market-creating behavior of Apple years ago on its then-nascent platform is to be judged differently than it’s competition-stifling behavior now on its fully mature platform—Ben is otherwise  astute in his analysis of intermediaries and risks of aggregation.

Read more about the collateral damage in these “platform wars” in this blog post over at Make/Grow Local’s  blog, here:


FOAP is a new way to get paid for your photos

Friend and colleague Bob Manley let me know about FOAP, a web service that is building a market for photographers to sell their local, real-live photos to companies looking for stock photography.



The idea seems interesting; take a photo, achieve a minimum score of community votes, then its eligible for sale in the marketplace. You get $5 out of the $10 selling price.

Their website also has a good summary of Commercial vs Editorial license rules concerning people’s faces.


Target website hiding its data theft warning

Target’s had a big red target leveled at its data systems recently; the intrusion and theft of over 100 million consumer credit & debit card information is almost the largest in history.

It’s website features a notice to consumers; but strangely, 2 seconds after the home page loads, an ad overlay obscures the warning text and link.

Purposeful or by accident, it’s a big oops on top of the disaster.

See the site 1 second after load:

website shows theft message at page load
The Target website shows theft message at page load

And 2 seconds later:

Target homepage after 2 seconds; the warning is covered over
Target homepage after 2 seconds; the warning is covered over

Intentional or by accident?

Does the law require companies to disclose breaches?
As an aside, most States do not require the companies disclose successful network breaches to their customers. A law firm has published a useful chart to track State-by-State requirements.

The write:

Perkins Coie’s Privacy & Security practice maintains a comprehensive chart that summarizes state laws regarding security breach notification.  The chart is for informational purposes only and is intended as an aid in understanding each state’s sometimes unique security breach notification requirements.  Lawyers, compliance professionals, and business owners have told us that the chart has been helpful when preparing for and responding to data breaches.

Maine has such a disclosure law on its book.

You need a shopping cart; here’s what to do

Here is a quick summary of the options available to you, and the decisions you need to make before a development cost can be established:

There are dozens of good solutions, and which to choose depends on a multitude of factors… do you have a site already with a CMS ? do you mind offloading visitors to a 3rd party “hosted storefront” like Shopify, which is a great service…  or do you prefer to keep them on your site throughout the checkout flow?

Is your site running as a self-hosted WP blog, and thus could use an on-site ecomm plugin instead? There are a few popular plugin options for this scenario.

Further, if you already use PayPal, do you want to simply add a Paypal checkout button?

See a site that does this:
You can do this method on both a website or a blogging system.

If yes to Paypal, do you want to continue using PayPal but need a true cart, and want a seamless, integrated checkout flow where the user never leaves your site? Then, we use the PayPal Pro api to make any type of cart system. See my site and go to the online store.

Or, you might want a full-featured shopping cart using a different payment processor, like, and you want it hosted on your own site… ?
or  even

And lastly, how do you handle the backend accounting and inventory management, if at all? Do you need QB integration? (troublesome!)  They need a store like bigcommerce that can send all sales data to QB on a synced basic. But setting up this scenario requires a true QB expert on hand.

The options go on!

In some cases, you may not want to use Paypal, and already have a 3rd-party gateway and merchant service. Therefore, you need a very simple “cart” that does only what you want, that talks to the API (interface) of the gateway.  A common gateway is It has APIs with which you talk to their systems.

Or, you may not have a merchant account yet. In that case, you could use an all-in-one procider like:

And now, we get to the technologies with which your site is coded… php? asp? jsp? python? ruby? We here at PDG&Associates use only php and sometimes python.

For php, there are lots of choices.

For a simple and free one, here’s:
You could modify it as needed to make it work, and a programmer could use it as the basis for a custom solution. And there are probably 100 more carts like it this.

Or with custom programming, we could simply build a tailored solution. Give us a call to make sense of the options!

Accept Credit Cards on the Go

Square Inc.

EBay offers PayPal Here

Intuit offers GoPayment

Eventbrite offers At The Door Card Reader

A credit card swiper that plugs into an iPad’s charging slot and can be used to sell tickets and merchandise at event sites.



Selling Tickets to your Event

New ways to sell tickets

If you are having an event and need to sell tickets, EventBrite might be the best way to go.

We used EventBrite to sell tickets to our North Country Film Festival in 2010. It was a success.

Now, the California-based company has released an iPad app that faciliates at-the-door sales. The NYTimes has an article:

To deal with similar situations, and to compete more directly with the big guns of the industry, in June the company introduced Eventbrite at the Door. Using an iPad app and a credit card scanner, Eventbrite at the Door customers can let in advance ticket holders and sell 400 new tickets per hour.

We are hoping that soon their new At the Door app can utilize the awesome Square card reader software available for Android and iOS. It does not appear possible yet… from Techcrunch:

Eventbrite is bundling the hardware and testing it in beta with about five or six event organizers, but it plans to release it as an iPad app this summer. The first iteration will be called Eventbrite at the Door, but as more features are added, such as seating, it will evolve into a full mobile box office. CEO Kevin Hartz sees it as akin to Opentable terminals at restaurants. Eventually he’d like to partner with Square for the card swipe readers, but is waiting for Square to open up its API. Square just launched its own iPad cash register app as well, but that is geared more at merchants than event organizers.


In the meanwhile, EventBrite charges less than TicketMaster:

The company charges consumers 2.5 percent of the cost of each ticket plus 99 cents, plus credit card charges of about 3 percent. For a $20 ticket, those fees would come to about $2.10, or 10.5 percent — much less than customers are used to paying through Ticketmaster, where surcharges are often 30 percent or higher.

The industry resists EventBrite’s low costs to consumers:

“A lot of people in the music business don’t want ticketing democratized,” said Josh Baron, editor of the music magazine Relix and co-author of the book “Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped.” “It’s a business, and venues want money.”


Amazon App Store offers free app a day

Amazon Appstore Android Robot The Amazon Appstore for Android is a place where you can get a great paid app for free every day, see app recommendations based on your past Amazon purchases, and shop using Amazon’s secure 1-Click payment technology. You can also test apps on a simulated Android phone using a feature called “Test Drive.” You can shop from your computer or directly from your phone or tablet.

Go to the Install page on with your computer browser:

Appstore for Android
Appstore for Android

Ecommerce – Mobile Payments

Have you heard of Square yet? It’s the hot new mobile payments tool for smartphones/mobile devices. Visit

Square wants to replace cash registers, loyalty cards and paper receipts — with one device.

From the NYTimes on Tuesday:

On Monday, Jack Dorsey, Square’s co-founder and chief executive, announced a way for shoppers to pay by simply giving their name to the merchant. Mr. Dorsey, who also co-founded Twitter, said customers would use a new feature on Square’s iPhone or Android apps, called Card Case, to make payments. Merchants would use one called Register to ring up and track purchases.

Square device for smartphones
Square device for smartphones

Point of Sale technology is ripe for change

Recent comments at the article.

Nick Houldsworth wrote: I work for a web based point of sale software start-up called Vend ( I think this is a fantastic development. We at Vend, alongside some other startups (Cashier Live, Erply) been working on disrupting this sector for a while now. Traditional POS is expensive, clunky, and requires outrageous maintenance and infrastructure costs. We’re pleased to welcome a large and well funded player such as Square, into this space. Their iPad app may not be for all retailers (lacking some of the finer control over inventory, barcode scanning, and integration into 3rd party apps such as ecommerce and accounting) but for a simple get up and go POS and payment system, and an innovative shake up to the industry, this can only be positive :)

I ordered a Square reader for Android. It will be great to sell items without using PayPal.

One major POS equipment maker is Verifone. As quoted in the NYTimes article… Good luck, Mr. Bergeron. I think your prediction of failure is wrong:

Initially, the company most in Square’s sights is Verifone, whose point-of-sale terminals and software are in 70 percent of businesses in the United States. In an interview before Square’s announcement, Doug Bergeron, Verifone’s chief executive, said that Square would not catch on for payments because people will prefer N.F.C. technology and have security concerns about using Square.