Recently, a few sentiments offered in regard to the iPod and its threatened success have reminded me that it pays to remember one’s youth.
Here’s an example of the pundit buzz. Writing for Forbes.com, Arik Hesseldahl tells us:
Apple Computer defied expectations and proved a viable business could be built around digital music. And, so far, the company has done better in this arena than anyone else has. But now the copycats are on the march, and in time they’ll have the numbers on their side. If competitive offerings gain market share or an industrywide standard is imposed, Apple would either have to adapt to market realities, making its two-part music offering less special, or leave it unchanged and watch iPod sales—and profits—erode.
I’ve penned such sentiments myself. They generally run along these lines: Apple’s had a good head start but it’s had virtually no competition. Now that companies X, Y, and Z are moving into the digital music business, Apple had better change its ways (license its DRM or allow others’ DRM to play on the iPod) or it’s toast.
This is a very sensible argument. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s flawed because it doesn’t take into account the YASAD (or You Are Such A Dork) factor, a condition well known to anyone between the ages of 7 and 18. If you’ve wandered beyond this demographic, let me remind you of how it works.
During recess, Kid A proudly announces that he’s acquired a MegaGinchy 3000 — yes, the same MegaGinchy 3000 that’s dominated the Saturday morning airwaves for the past two weeks. Kid A invites a select group of friends to bask in the 3000’s glory after school. That evening, each and every invitee demands a MegaGinchy 3000 from his or her parents. Too many parents succumb.
Parents of Kid L purchase a NanoLamer 200, as the 200 is both cheaper and more feature-rich than the blessed 3000. Kid L shares the news with his classmates who, as one, turn and intone,
“You are such a dork!”
I can see by the sudden flush to the face that you’ve been there. I might suggest that similar feelings of shame will overtake anyone finding a music player other than the iPod under this season’s holiday bush. Difficult as it is to factor into projections of the iPod’s success, we must recognize that Apple’s music player has a singular advantage over any other player now existing or likely to exist prior to the happy holiday season. It’s hip. And for the iPod’s target audience, having a hip music player matters.
The danger, of course, is that consumers are fickle — what’s hip today soon may be passé. That’s certainly an issue if, like the MegaGinchy 3000, you’re talking about a one-off product. But, as with the Walkman before it, the iPod is a brand — and, like Kleenex and Xerox, nearly a generic one at that. Regardless of how many features you pack into your MusicLamer 200, that’s a tough advantage to overcome.