Rethinking Apple, without its wizard
Did you ever wonder what happened in the Emerald City after the wizard lifted off in his hot air balloon? That, I suspect, was the feeling in Cupertino last week after the news arrived that Apple cofounder Steve Jobs had died.
Whenever I visited the headquarters in Silicon Valley, I found myself wondering: Is Steve here? And if so, what is he doing?
From friends who worked at Apple, I heard stories about how his intense criticism of a product’s design could reduce people to tears, spurring them to radically improve it (or causing them to seek work with a boss who was less demanding.)
Every Steve Jobs keynote address I ever witnessed was pervaded by a feeling of electric anticipation as the audience waited for him to appear. What would the astonishing “one more thing’’ be today?
Apple in the second era of Jobs - when he returned as chief executive in 1997, after a 12-year exile - was a company that, for journalists and the public, really had only five employees. Above all, there was Jobs. In his shadow were understudy Tim Cook, chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer, head designer Jonathan Ive, and marketing chief Phil Schiller.
Basically, no one else took the stage at Apple’s tightly scripted product introductions, and no one else spoke to journalists.
So the big question about Apple’s future is not about continuing its string of hit products. It’s about the people. No one at the company wants the vacuum Jobs left to be filled right away. But as the company moves on, will it require another wizard - another visionary-in-chief - to succeed?
Disney , another company with a visionary at the helm, drifted for almost two decades following Walt’s death, before Michael Eisner appeared. Could Apple reorient itself as a team-driven company, where not every idea originates at the top?
New life for old digital tunes
In music’s all-digital era, will there be something analogous to the used record shop?
The founders of Cambridge-based ReDigi say they’re building it: an online marketplace where consumers buy and sell “used’’ digital songs - tunes they don’t want to keep in their collections anymore. They plan to open the site this week, but it’s unclear how record labels and music publishers will respond.
ReDigi users will download a piece of software. You specify which songs you’d like to sell, and when you upload them, it deletes the files from your machine. The company says only legally downloaded files get uploaded. Even if you make a copy of a song and change the name of the file, the company says, its software will know.
For every song that you upload, you get a coupon that entitles you to purchase someone else’s “used’’ song for 57 cents. Without the coupon, ReDigi downloads cost 77 cents. When a song you uploaded sells, you get a significant portion of the sale price, according to the company, but it varies based on how hot that song is.
If you want to buy a song that isn’t available through the service, you can order it, and be notified when another users uploads that song.
ReDigi was founded last year by Larry Rudolph, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.
Amazon.com’s music service specifies purchasers may not redistribute or sell content they buy. But in the physical world, a DVD or CD you purchase is covered by the “first-sale doctrine,’’ which allows you to sell, lend, or give the disc to a friend without having to pay any more money to the copyright holder. Whether the first-sale doctrine covers digital goods like songs or movies is still an open legal question.
Entrepreneur Alex Meshkin tried something similar three years ago, with a service called Bopaboo. It’s now defunct. Meshkin said Bopaboo could not make the economics of a used-music exchange add up. To get record labels and music publishers to allow you to resell songs, Meshkin said, you need to cut them in on the revenue. “It’s hard to make that work,’’ he said.
ReDigi says it plans to cut recording artists and labels in on a portion of every sale - something they don’t get from used CD or record sales, noted chief executive John Ossenmacher. “Everybody in this industry is looking for new sources of revenue, and they see music sold at lower prices as an opportunity to help reduce piracy,’’ he said.
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