Last updated: August 29, 2011 - 9:13am
[Commentary] Again and again, Apple's Steve Jobs would step up to entrenched players in the media with calcified business models and explain their business to them in ways they did not recognize from the inside.
Apple is a technology company, but as someone who writes about the insular kingdom of media, I can't think of a bigger player on the board in the last 10 years. In music, in movies and in publishing, Apple has upended long-standing paradigms and altered the media landscape. (Television has been another story, so far, though there are rumors that the company is turning its guns on TV in a big way.) So what secret tunnel did he use to bypass and overcome traditional media businesses? One carved by consumers. By placing sexy, irresistible devices in the hands of the public, he reverse-engineered the business model of the industries that produce the content for Apple’s gorgeous hardware. When the iPod and iTunes were unveiled in 2001, the music industry was under siege from piracy, with services like Napster thriving on the free use of its content. Jobs’s take-it-or-leave-it deal gave Apple control over pricing, data, distribution and platform, a proposal of towering hubris. But the industry, kicking and screaming all the way, eventually went along, and 10 billion song downloads later, digital revenue is a fundamental part of the business. In the process, Apple brought a practical end to the album format — allowing people to buy individual songs and create their own playlists. ITunes not only supplied a legitimate, easy-to-use alternative to piracy, it created a runway for services like Pandora and Spotify.
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