Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft: five private companies that have formed an expression: “Gafam”, or more recently “Gamam”. How to name these companies, why exclude some of them? But above all, do these expressions and do they really have an interest?
The Gamam // Source: Claire Braikeh for Aroged
“Gafa”, “Gafam” or even “Gamam”, all these acronyms designate one thing: the big “tech” or at least digital companies. Their financial power is sometimes compared to that of countries and not necessarily wrongly, with regard to their turnover. On the other hand, the use of this expression is singled out: it would be generalizing and overused. However, it is found everywhere, whether in the press, on television and in the mouths of many political figures.
From “Gafam” to “Gamam”
In October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was getting rid of the Facebook name for his group, in favor of Meta. The CEO then wanted to focus on the metaverse, but also to make the giant’s activities more intelligible. Indeed, Facebook (well Meta) is Facebook (the social network), Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus (now Meta Quest), etc. A way also to make the Facebook Files affair invisible, a series of massive revelations of internal documents that compromised Mark Zuckerberg’s company. Perhaps this is partly why Facebook previously changed its logo in 2019: the official goal then was to better differentiate the social network from the company.
Thus the F of “Gafam” has become an “M”.
Therefore, the expression “Gafam” can no longer exist, it should be replaced definitively (until a future change of name of one of its members) by “Gamam”, in other words: Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft.
Why not replace “Google” with “Alphabet”
Assuming that we rename the Gafam to Gamam because the parent company of Facebook is changing its name, why not change the letter “G” to the letter “A”, you might say. From a legal-administrative point of view, this would seem logical: Alphabet is indeed the legal entity that controls Google. But in reality, Alphabet does not exist as a brand. To demonstrate this, just go to its website.
The Alphabet website // Source: Aroged
No logo, only two mentions of the company: Alphabet is not a brand, in the sense that it does not have an identity. The only other page on the site is the one dedicated to investors to access Alphabet’s financial results. While Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Meta are brands, Alphabet is not.
It must however be conceded that Alphabet does not only have Google as a subsidiary. Alphabet is also the mysterious Project X, autonomous cars Waymo or DeepMind (AlphaGo). However, these “side” projects (at least for the moment) represent only a tiny share of Alphabet’s turnover, compared to its Google-branded activities. In Alphabet’s last quarter 2022 financial results, of the approximately $76 billion generated, $75.1 billion came from Google businesses (which includes all Google and Google Cloud services, which are separated in these financial results) : this represents 98.8% of said turnover. Without Google, Alphabet is not the same giant from an economic point of view.
Why five companies form Gafam/Gamam
Rich and powerful companies
The companies that make up the Gamam achieve very high turnover each year, all the more so in view of their payroll (which tends to decrease). The Moderator’s Blog had recently gathered the turnover figures of these companies during their last fiscal year:
Alphabet: €266 billion Apple: €370 billion Meta: €110 billion Amazon: €482 billion Microsoft: €186 billion
Moreover, if we focus on the European Union, we realize the influence of Gamam products and services on us. As part of the Digital Services Act (DSA), a European law expected to come into force soon, digital companies have been forced to publish statistics on the use of their services. What come to constitute a ranking of the most popular platforms within the EU, with some surprises in particular.
Les Gamam : Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon, Microsoft // Source : Aroged
Of the 11 platforms with more than 100 million monthly users in the European Union, only three are not part of Gamam. These are Wikipedia, which is not supposed to be controlled by any entity, Twitter, controlled by Elon Musk, as well as TikTok, published by ByteDance. The other platforms are managed by Google, Meta and Microsoft. As for Amazon and Apple, no figures have been given, we simply know that it is above 45 million users per month. A very significant influence that the European Union is also trying to limit by implementing the Digital Markets Act (DMA), another law aimed at restricting the anti-competitive practices of these large companies. Finally, what brings them together is the fact that all these companies were born in the United States and that their respective headquarters are located there.
Why there are only five “Gamam”
Another element that makes Gamam unique compared to other companies is that they do not have just one large platform. Google is the search engine, YouTube, Google Maps, etc. Apple is iPhones, iPads, Macs and MacBooks, the App Store, Apple Music, etc. Meta is Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Amazon is the e-commerce site, Prime Video, Twitch, etc. And Microsoft is Windows, PCs and tablets, but also LinkedIn or even Bing. This in addition to very significant turnover figures as we have seen.
Gafam/Gamam: a term to be used sparingly…
However, it must be recognized that these expressions tend to put many actors aside. But that’s good, other acronyms have been created. The first is “Natu”: it includes Netflix, Airbnb, Tesla and Uber. It aims to identify companies that have a very high market valuation, especially in relation to their real size. For the economist Nicolas Tarnaud, “in terms of financial and technological weight, the NATUs still rank far behind the GAFAMs even if they are developing very quickly like TESLA and NETFLIX which are worth more than 100 billion dollars today”, wrote he in 2020 in Forbes.
Natu (Netflix, Airbnb, Tesla, Uber) // Source: Aroged
Gafam/Gamam and Natu, however, tend to set aside Asian (and mainly Chinese) players. Here too, that’s good, since an acronym exists: the Batx. It designates four Chinese tech companies:
Baidu: search engine, one of the most visited sites in China Alibaba: wholesale site, owner of Aliexpress, mobile OS developer Aliyun Tencent: publisher of WeChat, world number one in video games Xiaomi: consumer electronics seller, particularly known for its smartphones
Les Batx (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi) // Source : Aroged
According to data from Statista, here are the annual turnovers achieved by the Batx in 2021, expressed in euros (according to the current rate with the yuan, which implies values that may lack precision):
Baidu: just over 17 billion euros Alibaba: around 98.4 billion euros Tencent: around 76.8 billion euros Xiaomi: just over 45 billion euros
To these we could add the turnover of ByteDance in 2021, publisher of the TikTok application, which achieved a turnover of 54.9 billion euros. In terms of Gamam turnover, the Batx are far behind their American cousins. This is explained by the fact that they are exported relatively little, although they affect a very large Chinese population (1.4 billion people). Tencent is nevertheless to be set aside, since the company owns Riot Games, but also significant shares in Epic Games and Supercell for example.
The term Gafam/Gamam can also be considered simplistic: thesis defended by my colleague Julien Cadot on Numerama in 2017, for whom it may be “an overly simplistic conception of web actors. “Other limits exist: the integration of Apple in this group can also be called into question. The brand is mainly known for its hardware products. If it is an important player on the service (App Store, Apple Music, etc.), it is not where it has the most weight (especially financial). In its latest financial result to date, relating to the first quarter of the 2023 financial year, which ended on December 31, 2022, we learn that of the approximately 117.2 billion dollars generated, only 20.8 came from services. While Apple’s services share is growing across all of its revenue, it’s still a small share.
Why the term “Gamam” can be useful
However, it is true that the term Gafam/Gamam can be simplistic and centered on the North American and European markets. This even though there are more and more Chinese or Indian Internet users, thanks in particular to the emergence of the middle classes in these countries. But when we talk about the French or European market for example, the term Gamam can be useful to specify which category of company we are talking about. Moreover, from a macro-economic point of view, the Gamam remain larger than the Batx.
Also, the Gamam are companies with significant lobbying activities with public authorities. For example, they are spenders in lobbying French public officials (deputies, senators, government, etc.). The High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life publishes each year the amounts spent by the interest groups registered there. We have collected the budgets declared by the Gamam for the year 2021:
Google: between 1.5 and 1.75 million euros Apple: between 200 and 300,000 euros Meta: between 400 and 500,000 euros Amazon: between 800 and 900,000 euros Microsoft: between 1 and 1.25 million euros
An exercise that we repeated at European Union level for the last recorded exercise, which also has a transparency register:
Google: between 6 and 6.5 million euros Apple: between 6.5 and 7 million euros Meta: between 6 and 6.5 million euros Amazon: between 3 and 3.5 million euros Microsoft: between 5 and 5.5 million euros
If the amounts may not seem very high in view of the turnover that the Gamam can generate, they are so compared to other organizations doing lobbying (this can also be associations or NGOs). These five companies are among the twelve most important lobbyists in the European Union in terms of budget according to the LobbyFacts site.
The advantage of the term Gafam/Gamam also lies in its understanding: by placing it in the title of an article or in the introduction as can be done in the press (including on Aroged), this allows the reader to instantly understand what we are talking.
“Gafam” / “Gamam”: an expression still used?
What makes the power of a word or an expression is not so much its “beauty” or its clarity, but actually its use. The more a term is used, the more it will be used, that’s (in a very vulgarized way) how linguistics works. However, in view of the searches carried out on Google, which can give an indication of the popularity of an expression, the Gafam and other Gamam are far from taking off.
“Gafam” and “Gamam” searches on Google // Source: Aroged
By comparing the popularity of the two terms on the search engine between October 28, 2021 (date of “creation” of Meta) and today and this worldwide, we realize a significant drop in searches relating to the Gafams, while those on the Gamams never really took off. Note that Gafam and Gamam may have other meanings in some parts of the world.
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