Friday, July 22, 2011

Apple, technology and the mindset of publishing execs

Why does this site talk so much about Apple? That was a question posed to me by a reader the other day, someone who owns an Android phone and clearly in no fan of the Cupertino company.

My answer was simply that I write about what I know.

I've been an Apple customer since some time in 1983. Back then I owned an Apple computer because it was a great way to write, an improvement over typewriters, and look how fast that dot matrix printer can churn out a page!

Over the years I've continued to own Apple products, mostly because I liked and was familiar with the user interface. Besides, the lack of market share was probably seen more as a positive than a negative in my eyes.

But publishing executives have always had a strange and distant relationship with Apple and I think it somewhat influences events even today.

My first PC, the Apple IIe.

For many publishing executives, technology is simply another cost, and one that they have hesitant to defray. Editors and art directors always complain about the outdated equipment they work with, often seriously running afoul of management over complaints about their computers and software.

As a result, those who are most tech savvy, and the most likely to want the latest version of Photoshop or new Mac, are the least appreciated employees in the company. Those willing to settle for outdated equipment, those least tech savvy, have tended to survive in the publishing industry.

And what have been the residual effects of this natural selection?

I joined Cahners in 2000, shortly before it changed its name to Reed Business Information. Cahners had recently made the corporate decision to get rid of their Macs and replace them with PCs. Apple, you see, was going out of business, it was decided, and there was no way they were going to be stuck with a dead platform – or, at least, that is what they said publicly.

But the truth was probably more likely that the execs could see that moving to PCs would be cheaper in the long run, knowing the price of Macs. And besides, the cost of buying new PCs would go into another part of the budget and could be expensed out over time. It was, in other words, simply a gimmick to goose profits.

Art directors fought over themselves to be the last to be converted over to PCs. It was amazing to see so many art directors being so nice to each other. "You know, you've been stuck with your computer much longer than me, why don't you get that Dell, I'll try and manage with my old Mac."

When I joined the last B2B I was employed at it was the same old story: old equipment, management that looked at technology only as a cost, a company that was a decade behind the technology curve. I was probably most proud of the simply fact that by the time I left all my editors had new, working computers, though most had to move to PCs, much to their chagrin.

Today Apple is closing in on Exxon, according to the New York Times. While Exxon's market cap is $411.6 billion, Apple's is $360.7 billion, up another ten billion dollars just yesterday after it reported its amazing earnings.

Despite this fact, I am sure that quite a number of media executives who have been around as long as I have a bit of a frown on their faces. They have bet all along that Apple would go away, and that they might be able to continue to bury their heads in the sand whenever the conversation turned to technology.

Today, how many editors have iPads on the desks, I wonder? While I am looking at and writing about apps from John Deere, BWM, and other businesses, these editors, who are tasked to write about these companies, are left in the dark – as are the sales reps responsible to selling these companies ads.

Leave out the question, for a moment, about tablet publishing, what about simply keeping up with the news? It's hard when you think of "Apple" (not to mention the word "technology") as a dirty word.