In recognition of the season, Apple donned its fur-trimmed fat suit and pointy red headpiece by proffering a generous gift to charity while simultaneously dropping a very large lump of coal on the competition.
U.S. readers may be unaware of the controversy, but lately Apple’s been in some hot water with the British press. Recently the glitterati of English pop — Keane, Paul McCartney, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Robbie Williams, and many many more — remade Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” a treacly tune written 20 years ago to help raise money for the people of Africa. The proceeds from the sale of this new version will also help to feed Africa’s hungry.
A number of music merchants — Napster, HMV, and MyCokeMusic.com among them — agreed to carry the single at a price higher than they normally charge. Conspicuous in its absence was Apple’s iTunes Music Store, which declined to sell the song as doing so would force it to break its policy of selling individual songs for more than 79 pence.
As you might imagine, many people took umbrage at Apple’s scrooge-like stance. “How dare it deny charity for the sake of some arbitrary pricing policy?”
In what appeared to be nothing less than a Dickensian transformation, on Wednesday Apple proclaimed that it would indeed sell the song while pricing it at the the same 79 pence it charges for every other song on the UK iTunes Music Store. The kicker is that the company would donate an additional 70 pence of its own money to the charity.
You can imagine the screams of outrage from those merchants who were selling the song for twice the price. A spokesman for Napster voiced the industry’s reaction thusly:
“We are pleased to see that iTunes has finally agreed to sell the Band Aid 20 single, but disappointed they’ve chosen to use the biggest charity event of the year to undercut every other music retailer in the UK.”
Sounds to me like someone is disappointed by the heavy black object that appeared in his stocking.
I understand that Napster and others in the music trade are unhappy with Apple’s apparent headline- and market-grabbing move, but its reaction demonstrates that this is as much about business to them as it is to Apple. If it weren’t, why the bitter reaction when Apple’s change of heart will pour millions more into the charity?
Yes, Apple cut Napster and others off at the knees and I have little doubt that it did so for reasons commercial rather than charitable. But it’s time we recognized this false outrage for what it is. High-profile charitable events are driven by the reflected glory businesses (and individuals) get from their participation. I imagine that more than one British pop-star considered how their presence at the session and in the video might enhance their career. Likewise, the folks at Napster undoubtedly spent more than a few moments promoting its connection to the charity and savoring Apple’s demonization when it appeared the competition had given it a miss.
If Napster is so concerned about this it need do one thing only: Play the same game. There’s nothing to stop it from charging 69 pence for the song and dipping into petty cash to make up the difference.
After all, it’s for charity.