My Take on Red Queens & Increasing Returns

According to Thornburg (2014), a “Red Queen” is attached to certain phenomena when a “competition between two forces results in the rapid development of them both.” As an example, he recalls the battle between the Netscape and Microsoft browsers during the earlier years of the Internet (Thornburg, 2014).

Examples of similar Red Queen battles include the following:

  • Android and iOS: The battle for supremacy in the mobile operating system world has been underway for several years.
  • Nokia vs. Samsung vs. HTC vs. LG vs. Huawei: Speaking of the mobile world, several manufacturers of mobile phones are vying for the top spot in the marketplace.
  • Strava vs. Runkeeper vs. MapMyFitness: In our extremely health-conscious world, several companies function as Red Queens as they compete for the affections of “fitnessmongers” everywhere.
  • Garmin vs. FitBit vs. Jawbone vs. Polar: Several companies are also competing heavily in the world of health-related wearables, touting their products’ features as advantages over the competition.

In each of these arenas, each business is seeking to achieve increasing returns (i.e., getting ahead of the competition and dominating the market to drive further advantage). For example, according to Chris O’Brien (2016) of VentureBeat, “In the top five European markets (U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), Android’s market share increased to 75.6 percent, up 7.1 percent compared to the same period a year ago.” One might argue that Android is driving towards a point at which increasing returns are being achieved.

Per Dolan (2014), “In 2013, Fitbits, Jawbone UPs, and Nike FuelBands accounted for 97 percent of all smartphone-enabled activity trackers sold.” Later that year, however, CNet reported that FitBit had 50% of the world health-related wearable market (Kerr, 2014). With companies like Garmin (the only true challenger in my opinion) boasting several other types of products and focusing on niche markets, FitBit may hold this position for quite some time. With FitBit targeting the more average health and fitness enthusiast, FitBit could easily be headed towards achieving increasing returns.

In yesteryear, DVDs and Video on Demand (VoD) fought such battles. And just as DVD made VHS obsolete, VoD is having similar impact. VoD is more convenient, more flexible, and eliminates maintenance and travel. According to Brittany Hodak (2016) of Forbes, the last VCR was made this past July. Per Hodak (2016), “Funai, which manufacturers the VCRs in China for Sanyo, says the decision comes after selling only 750,000 units last year, down from a peak of 15 million units per year.” This shift was accurately predicted by Nicholas Negroponte in 1995 (Madden, 2007), who stated “By the year 2005, Americans will spend more time on the Internet than watching network television and videocassette rentals will have been replaced by easily available video-on-demand services.”

VoD quickly ascended to the place where increasing returns were achieved and accelerated regularly. DVDs still have an audience, but just as with VHS, usage is dwindling. The rise of NetFlex and the “disintegration” of Blockbuster attest to this fact.

In closing, I see DVDs and VoD on McLuhan’s tetrad as follows:

Darren Hood

Sources

Dolan, B. (2014). Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike had 97 percent of fitness tracker retail sales in 2013. MobiHealthNews. Retrieved from http://mobihealthnews.com/28825/fitbit-jawbone-nike-had-97-percent-of-fitness-tracker-retail-sales-in-2013 on August 4, 2016.

Kerr, D. (2014). Fitbit rules 50 percent of the world’s wearable market. cNet. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/fitbit-rules-50-percent-of-the-worlds-wearable-market/#! on August 4, 2016.

Kodak, B. (2016). RIP VHS: World’s Last VCR Will Be Made This Month. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/brittanyhodak/2016/07/23/rip-vhs-worlds-last-vcr-to-be-made-this-month/#1988c39170a2 on August 4, 2016.

Madden, M. (2007). The Audience for Online Video. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2007/07/25/the-audience-for-online-video on August 4, 2016.

Thornburg, D. (2014). Red Queens, Butterflies, and Strange Attractors: Imperfect Lenses into Emergent Technologies. Thornburg Center for Space Exploration.

Whitney, L. (2014). Android loses some US market share but remains top dog. cNet. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/android-loses-some-us-market-share-but-remains-top-dog on August 4, 2016.