Many of us tout the importance of capitalism and a free market, but worry about the ease with which monopolies are formed and the influence they quickly amass. In every sector, some companies have managed to corner impressive market shares, crowding out competitors and making it difficult to rein them in. Some have a visible presence that we are reminded of daily. Others wield power and influence behind the scenes. Most if not all do business in Africa. Check out some of the biggest monopolies in the world.
This article first appeared on Oct. 3 2013.
It’s no surprise that Google makes the list. What began as a simple search engine has managed to find its way into every tech-related pursuit. While Google initially began to take off due to powerful marketing and superior search results, it expanded to offer email services, GPS technology, online data storage, calendar services, and even has its own phone. It’s no wonder it controls more than 90 percent of market share.
Monsanto is one of the corporate giants that is rarely seen but it actually touches everything that is consumed in the U.S. A biotech company, Monsanto has cornered the corn market with its weed killer and seeds. More than 80 percent of the corn that is grown in the U.S. is Monsanto trademarked. And given that corn is in absolutely everything including rubber, building materials, soaps, and nearly every piece of food imaginable, that’s a pretty big statistic. Monsanto received a lot of negative attention for its copyright clause that prevents farmers from re-using seeds, meaning they have to buy new ones each year, but it’s a big factor in why Monsanto got to be the size it has.
Think of nearly every food and drink brand imaginable: Pepsi. Frito-Lay. Mountain Dew. Gatorade. Tropicana. Quakers. Tostitos. Aquafina. Lipton. And ready for the kicker? Starbucks. Yes, all of these brands and many, many more are owned by PepsiCo (which has also begun focusing its brand extension to China in recent years). It has been acquiring successful brands for decades. So basically every time you pick up a soft drink, juice, snack, or coffee at the Starbucks on every corner, your dollars are heading straight to PepsiCo.
While many say that personal computers are on the way out, Microsoft’s Windows operating system remains the most widely used system in the world. Its market share began to dip in recent years with the increasing popularity of Macs but it still controls more than 75 percent — more so in countries outside the U.S.
While Microsoft continues to control the market when it comes to computer operating systems, Apple’s niche is clear in its complete monopoly over gadgets. The iPhone is the most popular smartphone by far, and the iPad is overwhelmingly the preferred tablet of the world. When you get into iTunes and the Mac laptops (while some still use Windows operating systems, many prefer the aesthetic and performance of Mac laptops), Apple has a clear monopoly in the tech world.
Everyone has a preferred brand of beer, but most don’t realize that there’s a good chance many of them are owned by Anheuser-Busch. After merging with the Mexican brewing giant Grupo Modelo, Anheuser-Busch brands grew to include Budweiser, Busch, Michelob, Shock Top, Rolling Rock, Natural, Land Shark, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Hoegardden, and dozens more. So remember that when you get into your next heated argument about the merits of Natty Light vs. Bud Light. They’re all the same.
Intel’s dominance in the microchip market has been obvious for years. It is without question the largest chip manufacturer in the world, holding more than 80 percent of the market share. Used in nearly every computer, phone and tablet, Intel’s chips literally make the world run. This should give you a hint to the extent of their monopoly: you most likely haven’t heard of their biggest competitor, AMD.
It may seem bizarre that a company that provides a free service could hold a monopoly over anything, but that’s exactly what Facebook has done to the social media market. It’s estimated that approximately 60 percent of people who use social media sites choose Facebook, and the likes of former giants such as MySpace have nearly disappeared. Say what you will about the obnoxious habits of Facebook users or the unnecessary home page “updates,” but the site shows little sign of slowing down.
Amazon has long been a big name in the online shopping business, but has really taken off in recent years to become one of the most trusted and used sites out there. Add in the success of the Kindle (Amazon has a clear majority market share when it comes to e-readers), and the online giant makes this list with ease.
It’s no coincidence that the release of Netflix’s home-delivery movie rental service coincided with the closing of Blockbuster. Netflix has 61 percent of the digital video market, which is larger than its competitors Redbox and Blockbuster. When Netflix released its streaming-only product, more than a thrid of existing Netflix subscribers signed up. Netflix is only expected to grow.
Kindle had an estimated 67 percent of the market share in the e-reader market, beating out its competitor the Nook by more than 40 percent as of this writing. In 2011, e-books began outselling paperback books, which is part of the reason Borders went bankrupt and why you see a lot of digital products at Barnes and Nobles now.
Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio were the two largest satellite radio providers in the U.S. as of this writing but the two used to be competitors in a game they were both losing. In 2008, they merged to become Sirius/XM and became the only satellite radio provider in the U.S.
PayPal’s slogan, “The world’s most loved way to pay and get paid” is accurate. Owned by eBay, PayPal is the leader in the online payment industry. PayPal had 157 million “digital wallets” as of this writing, and is available in 203 markets. Apple and Google have announced plans to offer similar online payment services, so PayPal might be looking at competition.
Yoga practice may be peaceful, but the industry is making aggressive advances. The company has few competitors and has about a 50-percent market share. To give you some idea of the company’s growing potential, a 2013 poll found Americans spend about $27 billion a year on yoga.
American Water Works Company, Inc. is the largest public U.S. water and waste utility, with more than 16 million customers in 35 U.S. states plus two Canadian provinces. The company has around a 52-percent market share, and an estimated $4.3 billion market capitalization.
Another member of the giant owns-everything-but-you-never-realized-it club, Unilever owns everything from Dove and Suave to Ben and Jerry’s and Popsicle. The list is seriously too enormous to describe, but just assume that nearly every ice cream item you consume, almost every beauty product you use, and almost every pasta sauce you dump on a bowl of spaghetti has Unilever’s name on it.
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