Online Music

Via Barry Ritholtz and Dean Esmay, I see that Steve Jobs is urging record companies to put their out of print backstock online. It makes perfect sense to me but I’m always leery of marketing advice coming from a guy who managed to become a bit player in the computer game despite having a better, more known, and easier-to-use product.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dean Esmay says:

    Apple always priced itself as a high-end, prestige product. Always. It never–and I do mean never–tried to take over the entire market. And say what you will, when you look at the onslaught of the clones and what happened to the computer industry in the ’80s and ’90s, guess what? Apple was the ONLY player out of many to continue to remain profitable having its own separate product. Atari gone, Commodore gone, Texas Instruments gone, Acorn gone, countless others like AT&T and Hewlett Packard giving up and simply making clones when their own separate products failed. Only Apple remained profitable, and for a quarter-century now industry experts have been predicting that Apple would collapse “any time now,” and yet they have bad quarters here and there but remain consistently profitable and, last I heard, still have over a billion dollars of cash just sitting in the bank.

    They have the #1 portable music product, and a Mac product that remains highly profitable for the company–market share isn’t the important thing so long as you’re making good money. BMW is hardly the biggest automaker, and probably has a lower share of the auto market than Apple does of the computer market in fact. That doesn’t make BMW a joke.

    This idea is a stunningly obvious one and one that likely would have happened sooner or later. It’s infinitely cheaper to just digitize your old out-of-print catalog and throw it on the internet than it would be to try to press and inventory so many millions of CDs. I predict much success with this venture, and that new life will be breathed into many artists’ careers as a result.

  2. Paul says:

    I’m always leery of marketing advice coming from a guy who managed to become a bit player in the computer game despite having a better, more known, and easier-to-use product.

    I’d hardly call Steven Jobs a “bit player” unless you are making an iPod pun.

    Quick, who made more money last year, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? That would be Steve Jobs. (Just from Apple we won’t even talk Pixar)

    Another question… Until about 2-3 years ago, which computer company made the most money selling PC class machines? That would be Apple.

    It was not until recently that HP passed them when they bought Compaq and then Dell crept past as well. If you drive a machine other than a Dell or an HP it is made by a “bit player” in the market.

    As Dean eludes to above, everyone says it was Apple Vs. Microsoft and Apple lost. WRONG. It was Apple vs all the above players and Apple won big time.

    In fact the only time Apple has not been one of the most successful and profitable tech companies is when Jobs was NOT at the helm.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The iPod has been successful. But Apple computer is a bit player in the personal computer market in that it was positively overwhelmed by the PC, its direct ompetitor. Sure, Apple’s market share is higher than most of the PC makers, since they’re all competing with one another whereas he has a proprietary product. But it’s a niche product rather than the dominant desktop system because he decided to stay in house with it rather than license clones.

  4. bryan says:

    Given the crappy luck I’ve had with PCs and the MS OS, I’ll stay with the “bit” player.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Bryan: That’s really my point. By most accounts, Apple had/s the superior product but, because of inept marketing decisions, got beaten out by a much inferior one.

  6. McGehee says:

    Wow. You know, I hear more about what useless POS’s Windows machines are from Mac users than from Windows users these days. The only version of Windows I had enough trouble with to avoid using wherever possible, was 3.1.

    But then, when I get a new computer I routinely upgrade its hardware starting with RAM. So I suspect a lot of the complaints that are out there are blaming Windows for deficient hardware sold off-the-shelf. Blame it on the clonemakers and the unsophisticated buyers who let the clonemakers get away with it.

    But, since I’m dissenting from the received wisdom that “Windows sucks,” I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about. 😉

  7. James Joyner says:


    I’ve been reasonably happy with XP and, yes, I bought the machine with 528 megs of RAM. All the previous versions I had (98SE, 98, 3.1) were pretty balky as was the DOS-based system I had before that.

    Much of the problem, I think, is a flip side of the universality that we all like. With so many people writing software for it, conflicts are inevitable. Plus, the decision to make everything backward compatible meant a lot of unnecessary junk.

  8. melvin toast says:

    I don’t think OS comparisons have anything to do with it. If quality of product was the deciding factor, Computer Associates wouldn’t exist.

    The key was low cost and ruthless market strategy. Steve doesn’t play that game so he’s a bit player. Hiring Scully to head Apple was also a train-wreck.

  9. Boyd says:

    James, I’m guessing that you meant 512MB (AKA half a Gig) of RAM.

    “There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary notation, and those who don’t.”

    We’ll let you off the hook for that one, though. As a Poli-Sci kinda guy, all that Comp-Sci stuff just gets in the way of just using it as a tool.

  10. James Joyner says:

    I just knew it was some multiple of 16 over 500. 🙂

  11. Attila Girl says:

    If you work in publishing (or entertainment), Mac is not a “bit player.” It’s the dominant system.

    It’s also rather lovely not to have to worry about virii.

  12. James Joyner says:


    I think most people on the text end of the business use Microsoft Word; it’s mainly the graphics folks that seem to prefer Macs.

    But, again, the point of the post was Job’s poor marketing skills. Given the quality of the product, Mac shouldn’t be a niche computer.

  13. Attila Girl says:

    It was always priced just a bit beyond what the “Wintel” machines went for; they used to quip that MAC stood for “massive amounts of cash.”

    I think Apple made a lot of mistakes, particularly in the 80s. But I’m not sure how many of these were Jobs’ doing. By all accounts things have looked up there enormously since he returned to the company. He was certainly gone for a most of the time that the worst mistakes were being made. And I’ve always thought that part of the 80s wars had to do with how *brilliant* a marketer Gates was as much as how much the folks at Apple were blowing it.