30 days of WWGD? – What about Apple?

John Gapper in the Financial Times reviewed What Would Google Do? today and argued against my core concept of following Google’s lead. I’d link to the review, but it’s behind the pay wall. Irony #1. Gapper complains about my suggestion that free is a business model (note to Chris Anderson: Hope that Gapper doesn’t review your next book, Free!), saying that advertising won’t replace subscription revenue. That’s a classic view of those who think that old models can be replicated in the new world. The point of the book is that the world has changed fundamentally and old models won’t work anymore. It’s ironic — that’s Irony #2 — that the review came out today, when I attended a panel run by Gapper’s boss, the editor of the FT, here in Davos about peril to the Fourth Estate. The discussion was filled with efforts to replicate old models. I debated the point there and I’d be eager to debate Gapper.

Gapper says that Apple is the company to follow, instead of Google. I don’t argue that quality is always a way to win and Apple wins on quality. Indeed, I make the point in the book. So here’s today’s snippet from my chapter about Apple:

* * *

Is there any entity that is untouched? Is there an anti-Google, one institution that has become successful by violating the rules in this book? I could think of one: Apple.

Consider: Apple flouts Jarvis’ First Law. Hand over control to the customer? You must be joking. Steve Jobs controls all—and we want him to. It is thanks to his brilliant and single-minded vision and grumpy passion for perfection that his products work so well. Microsoft’s products, by contrast, operate as if they were designed by warring committees. Google’s products, though far more functional than Microsoft’s and built with considerable input from users, appear to have been designed by a computer (I await the aesthetic algorithm).

Apple is the opposite of collaborative….

Apple is a cult company and its customers are its best marketers—that much is Googley….

Apple is the farthest thing from transparent. It has sued bloggers for ferreting out and revealing its secrets. Attacking its own fans was unbloggy and uncool, but Apple didn’t care about the bad publicity. It’s Apple.

Apple abhors openness. That’s another reason its products work so well, because it controls what can run on them, how it runs, and how it makes money….

Apple does not think distributed. It makes us come to worship at its altar….

Apple does not manage abundance. It creates scarcity. Witness the fanatics who camped out overnight to get each version of the iPhone….

Free as a business model? The gift economy? Apple is not generous. It charges a premium for its quality….

Apple follows just a few Google rules. Lord knows, it innovates. And nobody’s better at simplifying tasks and design.

How does Apple do it? How does it get away with operating this way even as every other company and industry is forced to redefine itself? It’s just that good. Its vision is that strong and its products even better. I left Apple once, in the 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to the company, when I suffered through a string of bad laptops. But when I’d had it with Dell, I returned to Apple and now everyone in my family has a Mac (plus one new Dell); we have three iPhones; we have lots of iPods; I lobbied successfully to make Macs the standard in the journalism school where I teach. I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist. But I didn’t write this book about Apple because I believe it is the grand exception. Frank Sinatra was allowed to violate every rule about phrasing because he was Sinatra. Apple can violate the rules of business in the next millennium because it is Apple (and more important, because Jobs is Jobs).

So then Apple is the ultimate unGoogle. Right?

Not so fast…..

  • Here’s the FT review.

    I took the URL and changed Authorised=false to Authorised=true. (Does that make me a bad person?)

  • You FT review link didn’t work but I used Mr. Jarvis’ link above and it worked when I did as you said to the URL. Thanks.
    (Not sure if it makes you bad or not)

  • Eric Gauvin

    I think this link works for the Financial Times negative review of What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis:


  • Jeff
    I am a day-time entrepreneur but lecture MBAs (from time to time) on marketing.
    I called the fall of Apple (as we know it today) within 5 years (and 10 if they are lucky). And I did that in July 07.

    For all the reasons you mentioned – kinda – and want to point out that ‘cults’ are only as strong as their leaders.

  • TCR

    Frank Sinatra would have and did always ask, “What Would Louis Armstrong Do?”

    Louis popularized Modern Time. And Frank’s phrasing follows his rules.

  • TCR

    Popularized vs. invented because even Louis would acknowledge his mentors.

  • Damn you and your cliff hangers:) Well I will just have to wait until the delivery comes thru for me.

  • You’re dead on about the Fourth Estate. They’re following the tradition of industries like steel and investing in the old ways instead of adapting to the new.

    And I agree with your analysis of Apple, but not the conclusion you reach. As I understand your WWGD idea, it’s not just about success in the new Digital Age, it’s about sustained success. I think the recent flap over Jobs’ health and his vital importance to Apple argues that without this particular magician, there may be no sustaining magic.

  • Jeff,

    Irony #3: You seem to think subscription is an old model while advertising is, what, a new model?

    When you advocate for “free” you are really just advocating for the same old model: advertising-supported. There is nothing new there.

    All the reports across media, old and new, suggest that advertising is eroding. Even Google warns that it could experience weakness.

    And as advertising erodes, leaving a smaller pie to be shared, it becomes more difficult to support the argument that “free” is the ideal model. Free doesn’t pay the bills, and neither does advertising — except for the largest players who can get to scale.

    What Would Google Do? Well, Google can depend on its massive scale to enjoy the benefits of “free.” What Would the Rest Of Us Do? Depend solely on advertising at our own peril.

    You give a shout-out to Chris Anderson. Well, there is no room in the Long Tail for “free” except for people who have other sources of income. For people trying to make a living in the little niches, “free” is a ticket to nowhere.

    Maybe that’s why we are seeing record numbers of people coming to us at SubHub to set up membership and subscription websites to help them actually make a living from their content. Yes, some of them incorporate advertising also, but they do not exclusively depend upon it.

    Jeff, do you make a living from “free?” No, you don’t. You make a living by selling books, or by billing your time as a consultant, or by being paid as a columnist. When you do give stuff away for free, such as chapters of your book, it is to help you sell stuff — your books, or your time. Paid. Not free.

    Your resolute advocacy of “free” is really just an argument for the old status quo, advertiser-supported mass media. The bigger players are the only ones who can make that model work sufficiently and dependably.

    And so at least on this issue, quite disappointingly, it tells me that you are still at heart really an old media guy who is wearing new media clothes.

    Kind regards,

  • Jeff,

    Here’s a more open-minded view than yours of a successful online subscriptions model, from Silicon Alley Insider: http://tr.im/dr0h.

    Kind regards,

  • Harrison

    Jeff, it appears you haven’t actually read Anderson’s book other then the title.

  • Jeff,

    Here’s a quote from Chris Anderson’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal:

    “But it does mean that Free is not enough. It also has to be matched with Paid. Just as King Gillette’s free razors only made business sense paired with expensive blades, so will today’s Web entrepreneurs have to not just invent products that people love, but also those that they will pay for. Not all of the people or even most of them — free is still great marketing and bits are still too cheap to meter — but enough to pay the bills. Free may be the best price, but it can’t be the only one.”

    So when are you going to acknowledge that subscription is a powerful component of this model — as Chris Anderson does? Or are you going to be the last man standing who trashes the subscription model?

    Kind regards,

  • Pingback: iPhone: #1 Social Brand of 2008 — iPhone Tricks, Tips and Hacks()