Apple Re-enacts Greatest Marketing Mistake Ever

Most marketing sorts (now there’s a not-so-august group) argue that the greatest marketing mistake in business history was not New Coke, it was Apple’s decision in the late 1980s not to widely license its Macintosh operating system. The company’s dumb decision opened the way for a crummy MS-DOS add-in called MS-Windows to have the market mostly to itself while it matured.

Apple is doing it again. Lost in all the sturm and drang over Real’s decision to begin selling songs for Apple’s iPod music player, and over Apple’s sharp criticism of same, is how crazy Apple is to be complaining at all. Sure, it would have been better if the two had reached a proper licensing agreement first, but Jobs apparently ignored an email from Real’s Rob Glaser on the subject.

Why does Apple not want others to use its proprietary iPod player format? It’s that same old Apple closed-mindedness, me-thinks, that idea that we’ve got something really cool here and we want to keep it close to our chests, complimentary vendors and users be damned.

That is, of course, a marketing mistake. Music formats are a platform, whether provide by Microsoft (i.e., WMV), Apple (i.e., iPod), or the market (i.e., MP3). Music is, in other words, a standards-oriented part of the market where you are better off to the extent that more people support your particular standard.

By walling itself off from having others provide music in iPod format Apple is, in effect, a seaport constructing a wall around its harbor. In other words, here Apple goes again. Amazing.


  1. Certainly Apple has made another strategic goof in choosing to go with only mp3 and AAC. Microsoft (WMV) and Apple (AAC) felt the need to create their own formats that were “better”, both setup to fail in their own way. The luck goes to Apple in that consumers like ipod and itunes and thus “accept” AAC. WMV has not been so rosy for Microsoft but that is sort of like everything else they dabble in, not great and not horrible. (see Microsoft networking equipment)
    As a counterpoint Apple is teaming with HP to sell a branded verison of their ipod. Yet this reminds me of Apple clones that arrived in the mid-90s with semi-open hardware with proprietry software.
    Heck, my mp3 player doesn’t even work. My walkman does.