Seth Godin doesn’t need more retweets, or shares, but when I read his post this morning, he struck a nerve. His post, “Peak Mac” talks about leadership in your field, and putting named leaders in charge. I believe Apple does that, but as they’ve gotten rich, large, cocky and even more arrogant, they’ve lost a connection to the people who got them there- the ones like Seth and me, who started out with a very underpowered machine (my first was in Jan 1985- a 512K Fat Mac) and we struggled together to make beautiful things against the odds.
Here is what Seth says (and btw- I also was a Ready Set Go guy- long before Quark 3.0 became usable and Pagemaker was still a bad joke).
I got my first Mac in 1984. I was a beta tester for the first desktop publishing program (ReadySetGo) and I’ve used a Mac just about every day for the last thirty years. It occurred to me recently that the Mac hit its peak as a productivity tool about three years ago.
Three years or so ago, the software did what I needed it to. The operating system was stable. Things didn’t crash, things fit together properly, when something broke, I could fix it
.Since then, we’ve seen: Operating systems that aren’t faster or more reliable at running key apps, merely more like the iPhone. The latest update broke my RSS reader (which hasn’t been updated) and did nothing at all to make my experience doing actual work get better.
Geniuses at the Genius Bar who are trained to use a manual and to triage, not to actually make things work better. With all the traffic they have to face, they have little choice.
Software like Keynote, iMovie and iTunes that doesn’t get consistently better, but instead, serves other corporate goals. We don’t know the names of the people behind these products, because there isn’t a public, connected leader behind each of them, they’re anonymous bits of a corporate whole.
Over the years, I’ve felt I’ve been unjustly treated a few times. When Quark charged me an upgrade price of $300 for a new license because I bought a PowerPC computer- but the “upgrade” didn’t give me a single extra feature. When my Apple Quadra 650 had a different chip in it than the Quadra 850- and it’s video co-processor was a fail, when every time a new mac came out- I had to leave my very expensive RAM in the old machine because they changed the spec- the list goes on.
But the newest problems have been tangible and critical- and really irresponsible.
It started with iMovie and then Final Cut Pro- in the name of progress, Apple “reinvented” my tools- and all of a sudden, the basic staples of my craft were gone. Need to edit two cameras at the same time? Or three- or eight- sorry, you can’t do that anymore.
If you were a carpenter, and one day, Eastwing “upgraded” your hammer- and you could no longer hammer nails… you get the point.
Keynote used to be able to create movies easily- synced to sound. Now, of course, you could do it in Motion, or in Final Cut- or a host of other programs- like After Effects- but, in Keynote, it was down and dirty and very easy. We’d also use it as a prototype tool for websites- for speed and ease. Now, we almost dread opening the app. It’s been dumbed-down to work on a phone. And, if you used any fonts on your mac- too bad, the iPad will swap your beautiful laid out prezo into something really ugly.
Learning a new interface was one thing- but then finding your tools don’t work- well- #applefail
We’ve also been the proud owners of Apples “Pro” line- usually this means you get to upgrade them to customize your tools. Our MacPro- the trashcan- which took three months to arrive- greats us with a constant battle of disk full errors- despite being connected to a 20 TB drive- because Apple Apps and most others - cache and save files to the root disk- a jarringly pathetic 256gb proprietary PCI flash drive that is way too small for our apps. Can we upgrade it? 2 years in- the answer still seems no.
And speaking of upgrades- Apple continues to charge premium prices for RAM and Harddrive space- how much? Try buying a laptop with a 1tb drive. With a 13″ display- it’s $2,500. The last upgradeable MacBook Pro- is the 2012 model I’m writing this on- bought as a refurb for $850 or so- and then upgraded with $120 of RAM to 16GB and a 1 TB flash drive for $300. Total cost- about half of what Apple wants to charge- and if anything goes wrong- they just point to my “after-market” mods. Note, any PC laptop can be found with 16 GB RAM and a TB drive for under $1000- with a bigger screen, because the money isn’t in the hardware anymore- unless you are at Apple that still doesn’t understand that they could have the Mac dominate the market the way the iPhone does- if they’d get rational about their pricing. Even the Mac Mini- which used to be easy to upgrade RAM- is now built as an expensive throw away- I’ve got a 2014 with 4gb ram and a 128GB flash drive sitting on the accountants desk that I’d like to throw away because it can’t run more than Quickbooks for mac (a heinous example of bad porting) and “Messenger” without being a dog. And, btw- let it be clear, you never owned Quickbooks- you only rented the current version, which has a loss leader price- so they can suck you into their very expensive payroll service.
The huge revenue growth at Apple hasn’t been from their hardware sales- it’s all been from the App Store and iTunes- where they take a 30% scrape from every purchase of everyone elses work. Sort of like the Mob asking for “protection money.” You buy from us- and our vetted sources, and we’ll make sure your stuff keeps working. Great- except, my iPhone 6 now barely makes it through half a day without a charge- since iOS9 came out.
I won’t tell you how many OSX Server upgrades have broken my configurations causing my machine to not work anymore- costing me time and money. Or, go on about renting my tools like Adobe CC- making me a digital sharecropper- instead of a craftsman who used to proudly own the tools of my trade.
I’m also waiting for my internet infrastructure to improve from third world status- so all this online joy of rental is actually fast and effective- but the people running the company that I grew up with don’t live in places where gigbit internet is a pipe dream instead of a fast pipe.
Do I agree with Seth- and all the other pundits who think Apple peaked already- no. I’m sure there is a bunch more money they can wring out of us fanboys and fangirls, but as to being my benevolent partner in my pursuit of creative bliss- now, more than ever, the big ideas will still be drawn on a napkin- because the tools of the trade are no longer owned by me. I’m just renting and trying to beat the system that wants to turn me into a sharecropper.
A few friends on Facebook (a walled garden- a wasteful place to have meaningful discussions) had a discussion about the end of newspapers. Most of them had been in the business or still are. There were lots of repeats of the standard sky is falling misconceptions about why newspapers are dying:
young people don’t read newspapers
giving away content online is a mistake
releasing breaking news before publication devalues the print edition
advertisers aren’t advertising in them because they’ve moved to more trackable methods
the economy is bad
local businesses don’t advertise anymore
how can newspapers compete with aggregators and bloggers who steal their content
The problem is, all of them are missing the core issue- newspapers were never the best way to distribute news, they were just the best solution when there was no internet. Stop thinking of news as content to go in a “paper” and you begin to solve your problems.
Let’s look at the limitations of the original newspaper:
There is a deadline for “publication” that was fixed. If the story was going to be covered it had to be in process before 7 or 8 pm to make the midnight press time.
Newspapers have limitations on space- with additional costs to run longer stories. They can’t run video, audio, or most importantly update after the publication or engage in 2 way discussion.
A huge part of the expense of creating a paper was in physical equipment- and supplies. Printing presses, ink, paper, distribution had to be covered by advertising and retail sales, before the cost of content creation was even factored in. It lead to exclusivity and a monopoly in most communities.
Because of the costs of distribution- and the length of the supply chain, you didn’t have to compete with other papers in your community- unless people wanted to read day old or two day old news. Only a local paper could get the content to you quickly and keep it relevant.
Reaching back to a brilliant book from 1996, “Being digital” by Nicholas Negroponte, there is a single axiom that must be understood: “Bits not atoms.” In other words, things that are created digitally, shouldn’t be converted to atoms- paper with ink unless it enhances their utility. Very few things fit this axiom when it comes to news or advertising.
The only value proposition a local news outlet has anymore is to connect a community and to be able to really know each of their readers well. Since we’re no longer creating a one size fits all general newspaper- with a fixed size and lifespan, we must become the go-to resource for local advertisers selling atoms (physical goods) that people in the community want and need.
Even here- the problem becomes that everything is one click away to be bought from someone else online. Showrooming, the practice of going to stores to see the product and then ordering it online from someone cheaper is a major problem for those that sell commodities that don’t have a short shelf life (fresh groceries) or are too big to ship inexpensively (furniture, weight sets, car engines). So the market for advertising locally has become smaller- services, local restaurants, the arts, hospitals and health care, sports teams, they become the people who need local advertising the most- but, most of them have caught on to building friends and followers via social media - and can’t afford the newspapers overhead to be included- this includes the legions of sales people that news outlets employ to sell space in their finite paper or finite TV commercial space. Outdoor has seen a resurgence since it can’t be ignored, skipped, missed or requires a subscription.
Note: Google lets advertisers buy their own ads without the help of a legion of salespeople- and, Google knows their readers/users really well by tracking behavior, serving up custom content.
Getting back to local news organizations, they’ve been acting as the anti-social media for so long: one way communication, highly controlled, exclusivity, monopoly in their media space, that they’ve become irrelevant. That’s a big part of why newspapers have lost their value to advertisers. But, there is one big factor that many in advertising forget and don’t like to acknowledge- the fallacy of composition: just because you are online and all your friends are online- doesn’t mean everyone is.
There is a digital divide. Besides being a country with pathetically slow internet connections, we’re not universally wired. We’re not even close- and to the people who don’t have a connection, they still depend on the printed edition. The problem is, they are generally not in the key demos advertisers want. This is why the idea of running community newspapers as a non-profit community service is becoming more relevant and interesting to those who think about the value of a well informed public- from everything to the important decisions on who to vote for, to understanding the issues of the day.
Advertisers who want to be considered good neighbors, who believe that a healthy, well informed community is good for their business may begin to have a reason to advertise and support a publication that improves their community if it is also able to serve as the community hub/forum that set the agenda for the community.
In Dayton Ohio, we’ve been watching the experiment by Cox Media of trying to integrate TV, Radio and Newspaper under one roof since late 2011. TV and Radio are both facing the same fates, except broadcast TV has been giving away its content for free since TV’s inception as has radio. In the UK they paid for these services with a tax on TV sets and for the longest time independent broadcast wasn’t possible. The same thing that’s happened to newspapers with the net has happened to TV- now anyone can distribute video, on demand, and not have to own a transmitter or a license from the government, enter YouTube, Vimeo, Ustream etc.. Radio has been made irrelevant by iPods, Pandora, Spotify, etc.
Once again, the key to being relevant to local advertisers is local content. The non-profit public radio station understands this and has local people on the air, talking about local issues and events. For profit radio doesn’t even have to have a person in the studio all day anymore using voice tracking and programing from Texas.
What’s most funny about Cox is that they still think there is a difference between print, radio and TV- not realizing all of them can be engaged on a single device called an iPad. Yet, they maintain different sales forces, different rates and different websites- all adding costs and no benefits to the end user. Integrate and refine your messages to a simple, single stream and engage in the old One-to-One marketing idea and you may become relevant to your advertiser again.
Local advertisers need local media. Local media needs to have and know it’s local audience. Only then, will the two connect again.
And, just as Seth Godin says you make the most from giving away your insight, I’ve given my local media a gift in this post, I just don’t think they are ready to accept that their way is D.O.A.
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