11 July 2006

Apple and the Media

I argued in this post that Apple's French problem seemed to be a much bigger problem because of the way the company was being reported in the media worldwide.

Today, I came across Leander Kahney's Wired Column "Are Apple's Customers Rebelling?". He has noticed much the same as me. Perhaps we're both paranoid as (overzealous) defenders of the Apple faith, though Leander is not afraid to attack Apple when he sees fit. Leander's point is that Apple gets lots of good publicity on the upside, but it seems it can also get lots of publicity on the downside too - way out of proportion to the scale of the problem, or next to a competitor with a similar problem. We (supporters) perhaps shouldn't be too defensive, and accept that for the good there is also the bad, however unreasonable.

But I'd like to pick up on something in Leander's article that he doesn't comment on but that I think is noteworthy. He mentions three negative articles about Apple in the press. The common theme is that all originated in the UK - The Telegraph, The BBC and The Scotsman (he forgot to mention the Mail on Sunday also originated the attack on one of Apple's manufacturers who also manufacture for Dell and HP). As someone who is not a particular fan of the UK press, is there something in this? Is this just another instance of our press taking the underdog, building it up, then attempting to destroy it? I don't believe it's just that our press only takes one or two anecdotes and happily reports that as scientific FACT (eg MMR Vaccine/autism). There is something cultural at work in our country and embedded in the media that means we never allow ourselves to enjoy success or let success flourish. Whether it's a football player (Wayne Rooney standup), cricket team, athlete, business person, politician or company, we have a tendency here to build them up and take perverse pleasure in bringing them down. This may be a worthy attribute at times and used in the right way, but very often we don't build people up or bring them down for the right reasons (Wayne Rooney stand up again).

Is it British fair play at work - checks and balances coming in to operation? Or, is it that great British "Chip-on-the-Shoulder" mentality? Or is it just cheap, simplistic, opportunistic, journalism?

Back to Apple. While they seem to have come in for some heat in this country, I have seen considerably less reporting here of Dell's travails. The exploding laptop seems to dwarf any technical issue that has allegedly plagued Macs/iPods, yet has been little-reported in the mainstream UK press to my knowledge. Furthermore, some other Dell problems such as Customer Service and with the Office of Fair Trading in the UK itself seem to get little attention here. Neither has their (disappointing) financial and market share performance been reported in a big way in the UK except in the Financial Times. Yet, next week, Apple's Q3 figures will be announced and a flat iPod number will undoubtedly be picked on here as heralding another pointer to the "end of the iPod phenomenon". The quality, price, service and so forth of Dell in the UK is more of an issue to the average UK consumer than Apple's while the respective market shares are around a 4:1 ratio. Of course, an exploding laptop story is arguably as unfair on Dell as Apple because it is such an isolated incident. But I don't think for one minute, the press adjudged that as the reason not to run with it. And, if not Dell, what about Sony? They have had more than their fair share of disaster stories in the last year, but again never seems to register on the UK mainstream press radar screen as significantly as even a minor Apple faux-pas (Sony's proprietary ATRAC, ConnectMusic Store, and of course the Rootkit shenanigans for example are far more evil than anything Apple is accused of).

Now, perhaps I can goad our occasional commentor Charles to stop by and defend the UK journalistic profession that I so enjoy having a go at. If it is just simply the reverse of the iPod halo effect then why does it seem a preponderance of the negative Apple stories originate in the UK?

Postscript and Disclosure: I have today gone out and bought 200 shares of Apple into my US IRA retirement account. I think it important to mention that, while also setting myself up beautifully for those of you who wish to come back and taunt me for my foolishness, beginning as early as next week's Q3 financials! I now have 600 shares - the earlier 400 were bought, believe it or not, the day after October 1987's Black Monday at an effective price of $9.75 and have since been all over the place!

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Anonymous said...

Is it British fair play at work - checks and balances coming in to operation? Or, is it that great British "Chip-on-the-Shoulder" mentality? Or is it just cheap, simplistic, opportunistic, journalism?

None of the above. It's journalism.
The Dell laptop is a one-off. It's a "gee, lookatthat" story. No legs.

OTOH, iPod nanos showing scratches within minutes of being bought - so you can't see photos on them - happens to lots of people. They get upset. It has weight.

Sony isn't big news because it isn't a market leader in anything at the moment.

I'd explain more, but blogger doesn't let me see the original post, and this window is too tiny to post the whole article and chop it up.

Apple gets plaudits in the UK mainstream press; you don't notice it. It gets brickbats like other companies in the press; but you don't notice the criticism of the others. There's been plenty of the latter certainly at the paper I work for.

Ian Hobson said...

Thanks as always for stopping by.

But your defensiveness of your own profession is as bad as my defensiveness of Apple!

>Sony isn't big news because it isn't a market leader in anything at the moment.

Well, that sort of proves one of my points. The press is only interested in knocking down somebody it has also helped to build up. The Sony stories WERE important and the Sony brand is still very important. The consumer implications of some of those things are important (especially if it's bigger competition is trashed by name without pointing out the number 2 option suffers at least as badly).

And, you say the Dell story has no legs - it was a one off. But yet a quick search of the Guardian site for magsafe revealed just one mention of it - a rumoured catching fire (If my memory serves me well, one magsafe did melt and the reported reason was that the person's cat pissed on it). Yet, I suspect magsafe has already had many beneficial effects in terms of undamaged machines and people not tripping over and injuring themselves (but "Person not injured" is of course not a good headline).

I'm not suggesting that the UK press only reports bad things about Apple - that indeed would be truly paranoid. I observed that Leander Kahney's articles ALL originated in the UK, and I believe there is a reason for that (and I don't believe that the reason is the UK just has better journalism).

Most reporting in this country, (and unfortunately this applies to broadsheets and even treasured Radio 4) has become more and more dramatic and simplistic. Truth and balance are not allowed to get in the way of a good "story". Whether that is journalists, editors or the proprietors I don't know, but it is happening. Forget Apple for a minute, but do you not think that the press in this country has a lot to answer for in terms of the consequences of its reporting of MMR for instance? The Guardian's Bad Science column at least tries to point some of these out - even though it's own paper conspires to continue with it's bad ways.

The problem when the story is the focus - not truth and balance, is that the consequences are not always what you expect or even desire.

By all means stand up for your profession, but somehow it strikes me that the media industry thinks it is above criticism for anything it does in anyway it does it. Rather than serving the public as I believe it used to, it is only serving itself. I'd have less of an issue if you acceeded at least some of the points I've made are valid or gave me some reasons (it's the editors wot did it for instance) why it is the way it is. But if you are satisfied with the performance of the media in this country, then I feel you've made my point for me. If you're not, I'd like to hear what you think is wrong and how the industry could improve.