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.

  • The economic terms often cited for this phenomenon are: "first-mover advantage" (even though Google is not the first search engine, nor Facebook the first social media site), and "network effect". "Windows has a strong network effect in operating systems which has led to its 90% market share". Is the the sense you're looking for?
    – John Feltz
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 22:52
  • No, those are specialized business and economic jargon - I'm looking for a word I can use to a general audience.
    – user316117
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:49

3 Answers 3


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.



"Market Leaders" are experts in market dominance strategies.

The market leader is dominant in its industry. It has substantial market share and extensive distribution arrangements. It is typically the industry leader in developing innovative new products and business methods.

Of the four dominance strategies, it has the most flexibility in crafting strategy. However it is in a very visible position and can be the target of competitive threats and government anti-combines actions.

Research concluded that market leadership was the most profitable strategy in most industries. Today we recognise that other strategies can also be effective.

The main options available to market leaders are:

  • Expand the total market by finding new users or new uses of the product
  • Expand the total market by encouraging more usage on each use occasion
  • Protecting market share by developing new product ideas, improving customer service
  • improving distribution effectiveness
  • Expanding market share by targeting one or more competitors
  • 2
    Market leader sounds like something one of these behemoths would say in defence of their position as (in all but name) monopolists. Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:22
  • No, because in business terminology 'market leader' simply means the company that has the largest share of the market. So for example, in the soft drink market Coca Cola is the market leader, with 42% vs Pepsi with 30% (source NASDAQ Coke Vs. Pepsi: By The Numbers). I want the word that expresses a much greater degree of dominance - the kind of dominance where average people might struggle to even think of who Number Two is.
    – user316117
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:56
  • Shades of Thorstein Veblen's "Captains of Industry". ;-)
    – Drew
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 0:14

You would refer to this company as being the dominant player or the dominant firm in the market. In fact, this is not only intuitive English, but has a technical definition (per http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/dominant-firm.html):

Dominant Firm: Firm that controls at least half of the market in which it operates and has no significant competition. Its competitors are mostly small firms who compete with each other for the remaining market share.

This describes what you are looking for, without muddying the waters by comparing it to a situation with effectively limited competition like a monopoly or oligopoly.

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