Andrew P. sent me this article Apple vs. the Web: The Case for Staying Out of Steve Jobs’s Walled Garden that makes a strong case for your media company to not develop (or at least not bet the bank on) an iPhone App as the way out of trouble.
Few companies actually know how to manage being a platform for an ecosystem and Apple is definitely not one of them. Remember this is company that’s never played well with others and has a deeply disturbing control freakishness to it. Much like Canadians are willing to tolerate the annoying traits of the federal NDP, consumers and developers were willing to tolerate these annoying traits as long as Apple was merely influencing the marketplace but not shaping it. As Apple’s influence grows, so to do the rumblings about its behaviour. People say nice things about Apple’s products. I don’t hear people say nice things about Apple. This is stage one of any decline.
Here, history could be instructive. Look back at another, much more maligned company that has a reputation of not playing well with others: Microsoft. Last year, I wrote this piece about how their inability to partner helped contribute to their relative decline. In short, after kicked around and bullying those who succeeded on its platform, people caught the message and stopped. Today Apple thrives because people elect to innovate on their platform. Because it has been interesting, fun, and to a much, much lesser degree, profitable. Take away the “interesting” and “fun” and/or offer up even a relatively interesting competing platform… and that equation changes.
Heck, even from a end user’s perspective the deal Apple made with me is breaking. Their brand is around great design and fun (think of all those cute fun ads). They still have great design, but increasingly when I think of Apple and the letter F comes to mind the word “fun” isn’t what pops into my head… its “fascism.” Personally I’m fairly confident my next phone will not be an iPhone. I like the phone, but I find the idea of Steve Jobs controlling what I do and how I do it simply too freaky. And I don’t even own a multi-million dollar media empire.
So being a platform is hard. It isn’t license to just print money or run roughshod over whoever you want. It is about managing a social contract with all the developers and content creators as well as all the end users and consumers. That is an enormous responsibility. Indeed, it is one so great we rarely entrust it to a single organization that isn’t the government. Those seeking to create platforms, and Apple, and Facebook especially (and Google and Microsoft to a lesser extent) would all do well to remember that fact.
So here’s my position: There is no future in a paywall. No salvation in digital razzle dazzle.
There is, however, a bold future in relevant content.
That’s right. Apple won’t save you. Facebook doesn’t even want to save you. Indeed, there is only one place online where the social contract is clear. And that’s the one you can create with your readers by producing great content. On the web.