Nilay Patel has an incredibly interesting article up on the Verge titled, "Welcome to hell: Apple vs Google vs Facebook and the slow death of the web." While this title may be a tad overdramatic, the implications of Patel's argument are huge for the web, and dire for any kind of small publisher or online content creator without enough leverage to play with the big boys.
Patel's argument is a bit complex but it comes down to this: Google's income is largely based on ad revenue. Apple and Facebook want to cut into (or at least cut down on) that revenue, and each company is trying different things. Apple's most recent iOS, for example, for the first time allows support for content blockers (read: ad blockers). This will cut into Google's ad revenue because the web browsing that uses Google's ad services (DoubleClick and AdX) will be blockable. You would think this would cut into Apple's revenue as well, but here's where the bottom falls out.
Google's ads will be blocked on browsers. Publishers need those ads and those clicks to make money and survive. So Apple (and Facebook) will simply tell publishers to put their stuff on Apple News (or Instant Articles) where ads are unblockable. And if Apple demands, say, some ridiculously high amount of the ad revenue, then that's the way it is. There aren't many other places for online publishers to go.
Here's the most important thing: The web is going mobile. And as more and more people move more and more of their digital lives to mobile, they move from a platform where users had control over blocking ads or not, usually on desktop browsers, to a platform gives users less control over what ads and content they see, like Apple and Facebook's proprietary apps that don't allow ad blocking.
Patel notes that the "collateral damage" of all this is that large publishing concerns like Vox, The Verge, Buzzfeed, etc. will have enough clout to negotiate favorable terms from Apple and Facebook, while smaller concerns will be overrun, unable to get the attention they need in proprietary news feeds that will likely prioritize the content of larger companies that bring in more revenue. They will be left to beg their regular visitors to turn off AdBlock when visiting their sites, barely scraping by, if at all.
Is this the future of the web? A place where the largest companies' make policy changes to box out their rivals, and in turn sound the death knell of small publishers that are just trying to survive? Is it really this bleak? I don't know, but I really hope not. As someone who gets a lot of news and reviews from small publishers, I'm more worried about the future of web content than I ever have before.