Learn English – Need a word for a near-monopoly


My motivation for the question is: prior to the Age of the Web most product and service categories had several more-or-less-equal competitors: if you wanted to fly from NYC to LA there were several major airlines to choose from. Buying (or renting) a car presented a bunch of options, as did fast food restaurants, insurance companies, cameras, TV's refrigerators and other white goods, hotels, and almost everything else. It was rare for a company to sustain more than 50% market share.

But nowadays there are a whole bunch of product or service categories where there's one 900 pound gorilla and whoever is number two is way back in the dust somewhere. Google has 79.88% of all searches (Statcounter, August 2016) Amazon dominates online retail – I have no idea who #2 is. YouTube dominates video sharing; Facebook dominates social media with 1.2 billion daily active users. Windows dominates desktop operating systems, etc etc. And IDC reported this week that Android is now 85% of smartphones. Even in arcane categories like software development forums, there's StackOverflow and then who's number 2?

So what's a good, recognizable word for that kind of dominance, where one entity totally dominates its category, but is not technically a monopoly? Facebook, Android, Google, Windows, all have competition but whoever is number 2 is way back in the dust.

Best Answer

The term near-monopoly is correct and can be used to describe the companies with dominant market positions:

  • The monopolies or near-monopolies we usually think of tend to be technology giants like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, which holds more than 60% of the search engine market Netflix has been accused of coming close to monopolizing the online video market. Other more commonly hated companies like Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Verizon, and Comcast are also frequent targets, although consumers can give the FCC some props for its role in blocking Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner.



The companies you cite have dominant positions in the contexts they operate and are defined as natural monopoly:

  • A natural monopoly is a type of monopoly that exists as a result of the high fixed costs or startup costs of operating a business in a specific industry. Additionally, natural monopolies can arise in industries that require unique raw materials, technology or other similar factors to operate.

  • Since it is economically sensible to have some monopolies like these, governments allow them to exist but provide regulation, ensuring consumers get a fair deal.


Microsoft has a simple strategy for earning great profits. The software business is a natural monopoly business because average total costs continually decline with increased output.