Steve Jobs did change the world I live in. The company he led was leading innovation, no doubt about that.
He also had some unexpectedly cool remarks, like when he told that Bill Gates could have had a broader mind had he dropped acid…
I am nonetheless taking some distance with his management method, his “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” as his biographer Walter Isaacson stamped it, and his personality distortion field impact. Not only for the destructive impact it could have on his entourage, but also how he changed our access to culture.
Steve Jobs was no doubt a great thinker, fighting the sort of thoughtless and creative-weak use of slide-presentations. Stressing the need of open and rash face to face [in you face?] discussions. Also he managed to have an enterprise unity, which is rare. Departments were not spending all their energy fighting for their own interest against other departments. Some European companies could benefit from such an approach, sparing the cost of expensive “engagement surveys” driven by Gallup consulting.
That’s for the positive aspects of his legacy but then immediately comes in the way the myth, the aura, and the control freak!
I will not discuss whether Steve Jobs was an asshole, that is a given and was his own word, according to sir Isaacson! I just want to put his business model in perspective with the recent Arab spring, SOPA (Stop Officials Petty Acts was it the acronym for??), and the access to culture.
The business model of Apple is not just to control the customer experience, it is now controlling “the cloud”, and what can be put on it. Well, at least the most used cloud to access cultural content. With an end-to-end controlled and closed experience, Steve Jobs used his technological advance to block its competition (I refer here to the patent war) and to become the unique channel through which media can reach a user.
First problem I have with this business model is that patents so obvious as clicking on a phone number for calling turn into a costly war to stop the competition. Needless to say that this is finally put in the customer bill, with no benefit. It would be like paying Microsoft corporation to file a lawsuit against Linux Ubuntu community…
Second problem that flows down from the first is the platform ownership, the big cloud upon our heads ready to drop acid DRM rain on our heads. With the high hand on he portable music player, the smart phone, and the tablet markets Steve Jobs made its platform the strongest player in the media scene.
E-newspaper, music, applications, and film are now dealt through the Apple platform. The risk raised by a unique impermeable platform for the main stream consumer came to light during the Arab Spring, the SOPA, and the question of the access to culture. So what is now the future of Apple and its impact on our access to culture?don’t have answers, this is rather an open question.
Comments from Vincetoul:
I think your open question is very valid. But I will try to give my point of view with my little knowledge of the topic. I think it all comes down to 2 main transversal and universal topics (1/monopoly and 2/private interests vs public interests). Especially through your article I can feel you are not at ease with Apple way of making business on the back of cultural products which are more treated as a business commodity rather than a common goal for cultural access.
1. The seek for monopoly for big companies (in that case with the music and books examples).
Sum-up of my reasoning: companies are looking to make money, full stop. Even if they trade books or other cultural items, it is still only about money and the more you control your users the more money you can get because they dont have a choice to use another distribution channel. Unfortunately that will apply for books in the AppStore as well.
2. The private interests over public interests which impacts cultural choices
sum-up of my reasoning: private sectors won the power over public sectors for good and bad reasons. Unfortunately private sector is only interested in their own area, they dont see the big picture for a country development or a cultural development of people and the benefits you have from that as a society, public sector is more likely to have that view. But right now public governments are doing things only for business and not for the long term objectives of a population to get better (through cultural aspects) and only concentrate on short term objectives driven by private sector interests.
Let me try to explain more in details:
1. The pursuit of monopoly (or the jungle laws for a non (or little) regulated market place)
For those who undertook economy classes, it is very clear that you have different economic situations, the monopoly, the oligopoly and the competition are the main models. Competition is most popular one because usually when you have competition, then companies gets more efficient, prices are going down and profitability is low. Oligopoly is a situation were a few players (usually 2 or 3) have most of a market and agree to stand still so they can keep their market share and sustain high profits (you can see that was the case in the mobile networks providors in France). And the last one is the monopoly. Basically, you are (almost) the only player on the market and you set the rules, the prices. One would say that you cannot sustain a monopoly because the prices will not meet the demand (from a theory perspective) but most will say that’s the best position because people dont have a choice and they will pay the prices you set. So you can make a lot of money from a monopoly with doing very little.
Monopolistic situations do exist: Microsoft in OS for computers and Office softwares, the results is that Microsoft is a “cash cow” in the financial jargon, giving dividends, not innovative, but making good money. Microsoft has been sued several times for using and abusing of its monopolostic situation (Media player / Internet Explorer in Europe etc.)
And the problem is that as long as you can make more money, then moral rules do not apply, almost ALL big western companies (most of them are US based) are constantly looking to get a monopolistic situation: Coca-Cola is putting pressure everywhere on distributors so that they wont sell others colas, sometimes you can get Pepsi, but have you notice the lack of choice there…? well Coca-Cola has been condamned lightly for those behaviours, but still do it as the monopolistic situation gives them way more money than the fine they received. Microsoft was doing the same on OS on computers… and also remember that Microsoft saved Apple in the 90s to avoid a law suit on killing competition from Apple. Google is doing the same with marketing online, Facebook tried to buy Twitter so that they would not have competition, and Apple is just another big one, which got so big that it feels it has all the rights to do whatever they want in their industry. And because they are so powerful, if public law does not intervene, then it is just impossible to control them and they will destroy everything on their way to monopoly. For example, they forced mobile networks providers to pay the marketing of iphone in their countries, that’s why you have an orange logo, T-mobile logo in the iPhone 4 commercial… it is not Apple being nice with them, it is orange and T-Mobile (as examples) paying for the iPhone promotion, so as a consequence they have the “privilege” to put their logo in the ad they paid for… no wonder why Apple has 40% margin and gave $43b in dividends and buying back shares this year.. It is all about negotiation and power on a market, I do agree, so there is nothing illegal there of course ! But I am questionning the sustainability of such jungle laws were only powerful companies can win, it will kill diversity and dynamic in those industries that’s why you have regulators watching in case a company abuses of its dominant position, I think it is not enough yet to address the issue.
So that 1st point explains why Apple is a control freak (that likes monopolistic situation), they dont want to share the money of Apple products users, so developpers have to go through the Apple payment system and give 30% to Apple for using it…. whatever the industry is… and those 30% do not correspond to a cost for Apple but the fact that app developers cannot go through something else, either you play aith Apple rules or you dont play and look for another job…. So you took the book industry as example because it is sensitive as it touches the culture and society as a whole, but all others will have the same. Because (big) companies do not make the difference between “good” and “bad” way of treating culture or any other “noble” topic. They make the difference between “profitable” and “non profitable”, and sometimes (when they are really forced to) between “legal practices” and “illegal practices”. And from a business point of view, Apple is 100% right to behave like that, lets remember that now Apple is THE most valued company in the world in financial markets. I may be cynical, but I think that is the reality. So because companies do not really care if what they use to make money is culture / food / TV / petrol… then that brings us to my 2nd point:
2. The private interests over public interests
It is clear that with a liberal economy, the dogma is to get less and less government. Some theories says that markets will regulate themselves (remember Greenspan about the 2008 crisis…). So with that in mind, then everything is done in western economies to facilitate business. In fact there is this strong link Business = jobs = buying power = happiness of people (= election). So if you use that as your unique driving theory, you need to facilitate business as much as possible so that people are happy. And of course only private companies can do that because public ones do not know how to be efficient, make business and also there are laws to prevent any public companies to have better market conditions, because parlements are making laws that regulates business !! It is that easy.
Then, culture is just another product, like any other as long as money is involved. Do get me wrong, I am not trying to say that all culture industry produces is crap because it is a product, not at all. What I am saying is that overall, cultural goods are (most of them) just treated as an industry, nothing more, nothing less. Culture is not made special because we believe it is a good worth preserving, even though it probably should if we dont want to loose our minds to the consumption society. SOPA is only there to protect the money of music and video industries, and to control what you listen, how you listen to it, where you store it, so that they can get more money out of you for listening to their music, once again an example of private interests convincing international public forces to regulate so they would make or preserve their money. (to watch on that topic:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZadCj8O1-0). Once again brings up the question about copyrights, how much should I really pay for listening to Beethoven or Mozart ? As far as I know those were made long time ago and transferring them into a few bits did not costs millions… So when I pay for a concert I know what I am paying, the venue, the musicians that practiced a long time for it, for the feeling you cannot get from your mp3. But when I pay a mp3 then I think most of my money goes into intermediaries, majors. Again, I am not saying copyright should be stopped, but should be thought differently to accomodate the reality of artists and reality of their hard work that I believe somehow belong also to their audience as well after a defined period of time.
And sometimes you have exception which seems to work somehow on some topics, like in France where cinema production are preserved with different financing mecanisms, where still 50% of movies in cinema are french, the so-called “cultural exception” or shoud I say, cultural resistance to invasion of money culture. Look in the US, your movie is ranked based on the money it made, and not on the total viewers of the movie… So some mecanism can exists, (cinema in France) but it is always extremely hard to find the rigt balance and right incentive to maintain the art in a country, and also to define the right objective for that mecanism. Then you also have museums which are free for people under 18 in France and in some other countries, culture access can be promoted here and there. Books cannot be on promotion more than -5% in France as well to preserve from becoming only a commodity. There are some conservation laws that exists for art. Then how to translate that into people being more interested in the culture in general, that’s the key…
Another exception where private and public interests are not so different is China… of course there you have censorship, you have repression and you can be jailed only for having a different voice, so I would not trade my citizenship !! But from a business angle it is interesting to see that the public forces have a word to say in the economy, they link the economy to their country as a whole, they force technology transfers so they would progress with their own knowledge, they keep their currency very low so it would still be the world’s warehouse factory, they control what is said and how it is said. In this (I am not forgetting all the downsides, trust me !!) but they are coherent with a vision and objectives for their country as a whole. Are we doing so in western countries ? or are we so interested by short term and by businss = jobs = happiness = election that we forget to put everything else in perspective to create a better world for our children ? Yet it is still legal for Google, facebook, Apple to put a single room empty office in Amsterdam and Switzerland and pay one of the lowest taxes in the world legally…. Public bodies lost their power and private sectors will only look at their interests and not the country / population overall long term interest, that’s my 2nd point why it can be worrying to leave everything culturally only to private companies.
Obama said one day (of course without putting it into practice unfortunately): We must ask not only if it is profitable, but is it right ?
So you ended your ticket with a question, I will do the same (to continue the discussion): is it right to put our cultural products in the only hands of private sectors ?
Vin’s (depuis les Pays-Bas)
PS: Of course I was a bit hard on private in this post but that is just for the discussion, private sectors also has many advantages but I thought more interesting in the matter of the culture topic to point out the potential dangers of it.