Perhaps you, like me, watched with increasing incredulity as media outlet after media outlet slotted “The Beatles finally on iTunes” onto their front pages yesterday.
iTunes is a music store, the Beatles is music. These two things go together. Okay, so it’s taken a while and there’s a nice yarn about it, but – really?
Maybe I just lack perspective – I thought “Green Day for Rock Band!” was excessive, and I’ve been a Green Day fan since 1990. The Beatles entire discography finally being available on iTunes is nice and all, but to me it’s not really front page news. Or at least, it’s not technology news.
I could blame the iTunes-Beatles frenzy on our apparent fixation with all things entertainment. Or even on our fixation with Apple (more on that in a minute). But I actually think there are a few more interesting things going on.
All things Apple
Remember in July, when the iPhone 4 antennagate became a big enough issue that Apple decided to do something about it? Apple sent an invite out to journalists to a press conference – business as usual.
But the press reported on the invite in breathless terms.
Techcrunch, for example, practically hyperventilated in its desire to get the news out even before it got the press conference invite: “Word is breaking that Apple is calling a special press conference on this coming Friday.”
Oh dear. iPhone is the best-selling handset in the US, and this is an issue that would undoubtedly affect lots of people. The press conference is newsworthy, but the invite? The only reason it is newsworthy is in that it gives readers of Techcrunch advance warning to look out for a story about the solution.
Everything Apple does is snapped up by the media. Apple was completely justified, on that basis, among others, for making a big deal out of The Beatles. Biggest company in the world now sells biggest band ever!
Apple became the largest technology company in the world this year thanks to its triple threat of iTunes, Mac and iPhone. Mac sales are on the rise, the iPod and iTunes made Apple the owner of the largest music store in the world some time ago, and the iPhone is massive.
But I get the feeling that Apple hasn’t adjusted to its meteoric rise to top dog status.
Apple still acts as though it’s the niche product, the underdog – the outsider. And that increasingly comes into conflict with its certifiable giant status as a company.
Apple banning Flash wouldn’t be a big deal if it was still a tiny fish in a big pond. Apple’s iPhone 4 antennagate issues would be far less tragicomic if it was speaking to a few iconoclasts, rather than the hoi polloi. Apple announcing that it will have a special press conference would sink into obscurity were it not for the obsessive focus on everything Apple does. Apple has grown, but it hasn’t changed its approach to customers or to the media.
Warning: I know I’m generalising here! Bear with me!
Psychologists tell us that iconoclasts tend to be optimistic and calculate risk but commit to a given path. Traditional Apple users reflect this kind of behaviour – minimising any problems that their systems have (have you seen our previous years' Best Tech survey results?); seeing them as excellent regardless; weighing up the ambiguities and committing to a product.
Buyers in the mainstream realm are, according to psychologists, more pragmatic. Any problems are amplified by passing on word of mouth complaint, and committing to a brand or product takes longer.
To my mind, some buyers almost seem to turn themselves into iconoclasts by dint of having purchased their first Apple product. Apple sells the image, and they buy it.
But if Apple is used to the first kind of customer, and as a result treat the second type - the mainstream buyers - as though they will minimise problems and commit anyway, it runs the risk of wildly misjudging consumer sentiment. If not right now, then at some point very soon.
In a similar way, Apple's relationship with the media is heading for a fall. Apple's media approach is opaque – Apple doesn’t open itself up to journalists readily, except in very scripted sound bites. While that adds a nice air of mystery for a small company trying to stay relevant, it looks like arrogance from a company the size Apple is now.
Announcing The Beatles on iTunes feeds into this perception. Apple's front page pre-announcement "Tomorrow is just another day. That you'll never forget." has a sense of the grandiose that is vital to a small company, but looks like overkill for a large corporation.
Apple is, again, entirely justified in announcing its Beatles releases, but the media frenzy – while fine in and of itself – enhances the perception of arrogance that I think Apple will have an increasingly hard time managing.
With Apple's hands-off approach to media, and the media’s love of reporting everything it does, it either needs to find some way to downplay its lesser press releases, or face a massive backlash – heck, you can probably consider this article part of it.