Books & Literature

Book Review: The Four, by Scott Galloway

A look at the big four companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, by Professor Scott Galloway, who teaches Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Author Scott Galloway teaches Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business where he is a highly regarded Professor with both business experience and academic credentials. One expects the publisher’s blurb to praise the book but their assertion is completely over-the-top, saying that in writing about the big four companies of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google “no one has captured their power and staggering success as insightfully as Scott Galloway”.

The chapters dedicated to the each of the four companies range from interesting, informative, satisfactory to just plain dull, with much of the remainder of the book being little more than common sense. I didn’t feel Galloway’s detailed descriptions of his own business ups and downs and boardroom battles added anything to understanding why and how these four companies are so powerful and, at least according to the author, so dangerous.

It is undoubtedly the case the competitive advantage of each of the four companies gives them unprecedented market power and global reach. In different ways, the four giant companies appeal to basic human instincts and desires. Through access to low cost capital Amazon can offer cheaper prices; Apple’s placement as a premium brand appeals to consumers; Facebook’s relationship building aspect meets our need to be liked and be part of a group; and Google’s place as the font of all information helps to build our knowledge and self-worth.

The author dubs the companies the four horsemen of god, love, sex and consumption as well as of the apocalypse. Galloway argues that, as each seeks to become the first trillion dollar company, they are slowly but surely moving into one another’s fields of expertise. Apple vies with Amazon in providing music and films, while, in the US, over half of consumers searching for a particular product start with Amazon not Google and Facebook is eating into Google’s online advertising market.

I feel the author overreaches when he writes of Apple fulfilling the basic needs of feeling closer to God (he uses the capital G) and being more attractive to the opposite sex. He assumes Apple’s customers believe in a capital G god and want to feel closer to her/him and he perpetuates the heteronormative stereotype – don’t Apple’s products also appeal to the gay community?

As consumers we have seemingly willingly given up much of our personal information and privacy to these four companies which, at least in part, are how they have grown so big through data mining and complex algorithms. While there are useful insights into how these four giants operate I think the frightening and/or threatening aspects of the companies are over-emphasised.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10: 6

Distributed by: Penguin Australia
Released: October 2017
RRP: $45 harcover, $35.00 trade paperback, $17.99 eBook

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