Find tour dates and live music events for all your favorite bands and artists in your city! Get concert tickets, news and more!

Op-Ed: Blood On The Click Wheel – By Bob Lefsetz

I was at the psychiatrist today, and on my way out, I noticed a new fob on his keychain. Instead of the SAAB logo, it had the Acura logo. I asked him, HAD HE GOTTEN A NEW CAR?

An Acura TSX!

I told him I’d test-driven that car. It was a lot of automobile for the money. Furthermore, it came with BUILT-IN XM! What did he think of the XM?

He hadn’t listened. Well, he’s a shrink. I figured he was talking on the phone. But NO! You see his new Acura came with an iPod connection!

He’d gone Mac a couple of years back. I’d like to think it was all my stories during sessions. I’m not sure, but he first went for an iBook, which came with a free iPod, and then an iMac.

This is no geek. This ain’t no C++ programmer. This is just a regular guy, older than me, utilizing the new technology. And if this guy has forsaken radio, FREE SATELLITE RADIO, then what chance is there for this industry to SURVIVE?

You can’t say you love satellite radio anymore. People laugh. Like you stepped in doo-doo. Howard Stern and Mel Karmazin tarred the reputation of the category, and now it’s fighting to remain a niche. Better management, a better sale of its story, might be able to stanch the bleeding, but it seems America just ain’t buying, just ain’t INTERESTED, even when it’s FREE! Because people have discovered the iPod, which lets you listen to EXACTLY what you want WHEN you want. And they’re not going back to the old ways, never ever.

Even Pandora and LastFM have usurped satellite radio’s buzz. What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where people have more faith in a COMPUTER than PEOPLE! Everything’s hand-selected at satellite radio, but the public doesn’t give a shit, they DON’T TRUST THE HANDS!

No iPod, satellite radio is a winner. But with choice and a seamless car interface, satellite radio is a boy band with a minor hit, never to be heard from again. Kind of like LFO.

Thinking about all this, I wondered, WHAT ELSE HAD THE iPOD KILLED?

1. Rio

The iPod wasn’t the first, just the best. Rio had a head-start. It bungled the ball. First and foremost because it had inferior software. The iPod might LOOK cool, but it’s software that makes it work so well, such an attractive product. So, the iPod didn’t only kill Rio and Creative (check, their numbers are in the toilet, they’re pulling back), it killed Sony Connect.

2. Sony Connect

It just didn’t work well. And it was half a solution. You need a store AND a player. Sure, Connect was hampered even more by an incompatible format, but the lame software coupled with the equally lame hardware doomed the service. Usability is more important than appearance. Stunningly, iPod/iTunes had both. Sony was only interested in the packaging. You had to be a geek to use their players, and most people are not geeks, and even geeks get frustrated sometimes.

Any competing store will not be a threat without a competing player. Amazon selling tracks? Probably a disaster. (Hell, wasn’t Yahoo supposed to steal Apple’s thunder?) Because even if you know how to BUY on Amazon, what the fuck do you DO with said tracks?

The average person has no idea what folder to place downloaded tracks into. The average person has no idea where the tracks download TO! They can’t even find what they’ve BOUGHT!

And, even if you don’t want to move the music to an appropriate folder, HOW THE FUCK DO YOU ADD IT TO YOUR iTUNES LIBRARY? People know how to buy from iTunes, and rip CDs. But the average person has no idea how to import. And why do so if it’s such a HASSLE!

And before I move on, the iPod didn’t only kill Connect, it put a huge dent in SONY INC! Suddenly, Sony was no longer the leader, no longer the desirable product. The twin prongs of Apple and Samsung damaged Sony’s reputation IRREVOCABLY!

3. The CD.

Napster wounded the CD, but the iPod killed it.

It came down to this. Do you want to be able to take YOUR ENTIRE COLLECTION WITH YOU, or a bunch of scratchable CDs and a large portable player that skips. I mean try JOGGING with a portable CD player. And then, as iPod penetration became greater, it became positively UNCOOL to own a Discman. Further killing the CD format.

A 45 held two tracks. An LP forty minutes. A CD seventy minutes. An iPod? DAYS WORTH! So, the ART FORM was challenged. How long should an album BE? Should there even BE any albums? Stunningly, both labels and artists are still debating this, still clinging to the album format when consumers only care about ONE THING! That the music be GOOD! They want a LOT of good music, and NONE bad.

4. The Major Labels

Oh, they’ll survive, in some ultra-merged fashion, focusing on their catalogs. But the iTunes Store flattened distribution. Anybody can get on the service, and anybody can get paid. The majors controlled distribution, they no longer do.

5. Terrestrial Radio

The iPod not only put a dent in satellite, but terrestrial music radio too. Radio’s only hope is topicality. News and discussion thereof/talk. To play the same old tracks over and over again? People only tolerated this when they had no options. Now, with the iPod, the public is extending a middle finger to radio, and RADIO DOESN’T EVEN REALIZE IT! Radio thinks it’s a monopoly, that people MUST listen. No way. And, iPod penetration will only increase. And music radio’s numbers will continue to go down. And labels won’t have controlled spheres within which to hype their products…

6. Palm

Did you catch the numbers?

RIM will survive. BlackBerries are e-mail devices. Corporations are not about to switch to iPhones, which do e-mail much more poorly and sans as much security. But all those things you do on your Treo? With that fucking stylus? Lamenting the constant crashing? You’re gonna do those with your fingers on the iPhone. The e-mail on the iPhone is every bit as good as that on the Treo. And the device is slimmer, cooler, and ultimately MORE USABLE!

The iPhone IS an iPod. And it was only the success of the iPod that allowed Apple to make such a splash with the iPhone.

7. Dell

An industrial box, sans identity, with tech support in Bangalore, as opposed to a badge of honor that works. Which you can get tech support on FOR FREE by a genius at your local Apple Store! Corporations will continue to be Windows/PC, but the movement amongst the hoi polloi, everyday people, to the Mac is stunning.

This is hurting not only Dell, which thought it was about price only, but MICROSOFT!

8. Microsoft

No longer the indomitable beast. Today, the "Wall Street Journal" told the company to spin off its never made a profit Xbox division. Heard of anybody buying a Zune recently? Eager to get a Vista box?

Microsoft ain’t going away. But when it comes to new products, usability, STOCK OWNERSHIP, one goes with Apple.

It was a trojan horse. A supposedly overpriced device that only worked on Macs. Now, the iPod and its attendant store are viewed as behemoths, which rule the world of music with an iron fist.

How funny.

But even funnier is that the consumer is on APPLE’S side. No one professed love for their Dell, certainly not for Windows, but Apple can sell ANYTHING based on the reputation it built with the iPod.

So, what have we learned?

It’s not about price, it’s about focusing on a need, that many people don’t even know that they have, and delivering a solution. It’s about usability. It’s about cool. It’s about design from the top down as opposed to committee. It’s about excellence as opposed to lowest common denominator.

And the juggernaut continues. In the future, people will want only basic mobile phones or FULL-FEATURED ONES! Mobile high speed networks will MEAN something, people WILL WANT to surf at high speed whilst on the run. So, cell service in America will IMPROVE, all as a result of the iPhone, a direct descendant of the iPod. Hell, AT&T is upgrading their network AS WE SPEAK!

It used to be about muscle. Controlling distribution. Now it’s about quality. Google gives you the result you’re looking for, and Apple lets you take your lifestyle on the run. You didn’t foresee either solution, but now YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT THEM!'

The Lefsetz Letter Archive