The ‘Better-Mousetrap’ Myth, How Gladwell Was Wrong (& Fuck the iPod)



So, I want to be clear before I start, I do not hate Malcolm Gladwell. In fact, I have a lot of respect for him. That being said, there was one thing that he said in one of his books about why Apple won the MP3 player wars a couple decade ago… And, to be fair, it wasn’t just Gladwell who was wrong, the idea he presented has become so widely accepted by so many people that it’s seemingly set in stone – but it’s complete bullshit.

So why did Apple win the MP3 Wars? “A thousand songs in your pocket.” That’s how… (supposedly)…  

They had a catchy slogan. You didn’t know you needed a thousand songs in your pocket, but Apple delivered. 

Now, I’m not quoting Gladwell on those two sentences, but those are basically his points, and I’ve heard them espoused over and over and over and fucking over and over again by so many people. OK. First of all, I remember going to Best Buy at the turn of the century and going to the MP3 player aisle (the best aisle in the history of aisles!) and seeing all the mp3 players. So, we didn’t know we “needed” a thousand songs in our pocket? Because… Well… Most of those mp3 players were offering hundreds and hundreds of songs… I don’t know if I need a thousand songs in my pocket, or even 20, but that’s not really the point… I went and saw what the IPod had, specs-wise, and as I recall, they DID have more memory than much of the competition did, but, considering the price was about double (or more) the price, it wasn’t a bargain. Not only was it not a bargain, it was actually pretty stupid to get it, considering how much you were paying for how much you were getting…

But, they won, didn’t they? There are other mp3 players out there – but the big one? Yep, it’s Apple. So what’s the problem? People pay more for Apple products, right?

Right, they pay more. The IPod was all shiny and cool looking, the other companies (or, a good deal of them) were “scrappy” upstarts (whatever the fuck “scrappy upstart” means)… But what REALLY nailed it was the fact that Apple had billions of dollars to throw at TV ads telling everyone to go out and buy an iPod. And then they created a huge Itunes market, because they had the capital to spend on it! THAT’S what happened. Thats ACTUALLY what happpened.  Was the new company on the block who just got startup funding in Palo Alto able to spend a billion dollars on commercials on every channel everywhere? …Probably not. Sure, there were a few other bigger name companies (remember the Zune?) but they either didn’t put their heart into it and really try to make it ‘hip,’ or they just got beaten out by the fucking juggernaut that is the diseased / rotten fruit known as Apple.  Great marketing. Lots of money. It’s the same way we get presidents. People voting for a candidate, people voting for a product with their money, same process.

So, it wasn’t because Apple had the ‘BEST PRODUCT ON THE MARKET’ or some bullshit like that. It wasn’t the ‘better mousetrap,’ (I hate that phrase, btw).

So what’s the alternative? What if it were 1999 or 2000 and you had a little bit of startup cash and you wanted to market YOUR mp3 player? Well, there are a lot of ways, but consider this: half of Apple’s steam comes from the Apple fanatics thinking they’re part of some hip/elite club, or that Apple is the ‘underdog’ who was able to soar passed Microsoft and get ahead, time and time again, because they’re so hip and cool and fucking awesome and rebellious and brilliant… Well, play to that. Go guerilla style: play to the fact that Apple is a huge company, an YOU are the (ughh..) “scrappy” (there’s that word again) upstart – build a narrative of David vs. Goliath, and you’re the hip one with the cool product.

Gladwell mentions in one of his books (and this is something I agree with him on) that in the David vs. Goliath scenario, David has one advantage – he gets to be the trickster. He can play by a different set of rules, so to speak. You got a cool mp3 player? Get a cool slogan and spray paint it all over every major city in the country, or hire a team of people to do it.. Make it ACTUALLY rebellious, not just faux-rebellious like Apple.


“Give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away, now”

Here’s another idea: give that shit away! Have ads (visual or audio) every ten songs (or every five songs, or fifty, or whatever!) or offer updates that make the product way better. Those mp3 players didnt cost much to make as Apple wanted to charge, and I don’t care what they say about that. So can you turn a profit? Well, phone companies put phones in everyone’s homes (way back in the rotary days) and, believe it or not, nobody “technically” owned their own phone. The money was in the subscription. So you could always go the SaaS route (I don’t know why the two ‘A’s in the middle of that acronym are never capitalized…who decided that? …Was it Apple?….lol). How bout a ten dollar subscription fee every month, and within three years, you got $360 bucks, and all the updates people added on, and maybe they got some kind of “premium” plan or whatever…

Just remember: THERE ARE ALWAYS ALTERNATIVES. Fuck an apple. Fuck an iPod. That shit should be free. Hell, maybe charging people a quarter of a cent to play a song would be a good way to do it, and skip all the ads and fees beyond that… These are just some ideas, and although you might say, “Well, great, Will (or StrangeFlow, or whatever your goddamn name is) it’s awesome for you to tell us how to supposedly beat Apple at their own game…fifteen or twenty years later, that’s so fucking helpful, Jesus, you’re a genius, Flow, now if only we could invent a time machine….”

OK, so perhaps that iPod vs. Zune vs. the Indies is a battle that’s been won, as far as market share. People have using their phones for music for awhile now, anyway… But the basic point is still there.. There are always ways to outsmart or out-cool or out-do the competition. So a company spends a billion in ads? So go the store with stickers that say “come on, nerd, this is a fuckin rip off, are you stupid?” and put them on all the boxes of Apple’s iPod boxes (or whatever modern product)… You know, I feel like I’ll get sued just for mentioning that idea, so, uh.. DON’T deface APPLE’S property… just deface some other large corporation’s property, instead! … **looks both ways** OK, I think I’m in the clear. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what anyone does to an iPod box now, that battle is over, but you get the idea, right? There are always new markets, new technological innovations, and hell, there’s always the big boys on the block who unfairly get to show up whenever and just TAKE market share. No, it’s not fair. So become the trickster. The merry prankster of capitalism. It’s all about competition, right? Have a better method. If a corporation steals your idea, sue em. If they win, organize a protest and make it clear they fucked you over and that they’re the Goliath. Make them the Goliath as soon as possible, because people hate the Goliath (that is, unless they’re tricked into thinking the Goliath IS the David character, like so many Apple fans think).

And look, if you’re an Apple fan, I don’t hate you. I really don’t. I just hate the internet gods, period. And Apple is one of them, and they have far too much sway in the technological economy, especially since they mostly just use other people’s products (I said mostly). And it’s not just that they’re BIG, it’s that they’re a fucking bully. The sociopath, Steve Jobbs, was great at manipulating marketing (no, really, he was great at it, he was just a giant fucking dishonest litigious douchebag, IMO)… Remember when Apple started to fall apart and they call Jobs back in? Well, the guy’s dead now, so what are they going to do now?

My guess is Apple is going to be like a pair of jeans is now. What the fuck that does that mean? Well, a lot of baby boomers seem to think they’re making some statement by wearing jeans…. ( I don’t know… I guess Khaki’s were the Goliath in that old chapter of history? …) anyway… the Boomers feel proud wearing their “cool” and “rebellious” jeans (although they hate when Black guys take the rebelliousness a step further and let the jeans hang down a little bit… that drives a lot of people ((but mostly older people)) fucking batshit). So, my point, Apple will eventually be to the Millenials (and some of the X’ers?) what jeans are to the boomers: “COOL,” (but not really cool). SIDENOTE: Jeans will probably outlast Apple, as everyone wears jeans, and there’s tons of jeans companies, whereas there’s only one Apple, and there’s bound to be a company to come along and knock them off their block (financially) by playing up the story/narrative of David vs. Goliath…  Maybe it’ll be one of the solutions I suggested (the micropayments one is something I WILL be writing much more about in the future) or maybe it’ll just be an issue of a company going out of style… Like IBM dressing like a bunch of fucking nerds in their stupid uniforms when most of the computer tech aficionados and companies in the 1970s dressed like hippies or… just… just YOUNG PEOPLE, in general, without a stupid outfit like IBM, who lost out on so much market share on a number of things because they weren’t “keeping their ear to the streets,” (to quote Dr. Dre*) to really try to find out and understand what was new and hip.

So there you go. Remember, again, as I’ve said a dozen times (and I’ll KEEP saying it) – there are always alternatives. And also, remember, people become rich everyday. Seriously, there are over a million millionaires just in the US alone. Actually, far more than one million… I should find the exact number (although it’s tricky finding a super-accurate number, many millionaires go off-shore, either physically, or just with their bank accounts, things like that, the various reasons it’s hard to figure could be another article in an of itself, but anyway, this article is getting passed it’s bedtime, so I’ll let ya go on that note.

* Superfluous footnote: I mentioned Dre a second ago…. So… even if Dr. Dre (who probably heard about Eminem through an intern or friend) hadn’t kept his “ears to the streets,” I’m SURE somebody would’ve “discovered” him (it’s funny how we refer to talented people as being ‘discovered,’ and not just ’employed,’ or, ‘partnered,’) I mean for fuck’s sake, though – imagine if Def Jam picked him up. Imagine if Rick Rubin wrote (or helped) with most of his beats, my goodness, he’d be even better. Aaaaaannnnddd, this is a pretty big digression here, but… who gives a fuck. I’m right, aren’t I? You know what really annoys me is how Puffy Bear Piddy Diddy Combs “discovered” Biggie Smalls. HE WAS FUCKING BIGGIE SMALLS, you think nobody would’ve fucking noticed the fucking mountain of talent coming out of that man’s music? For real, though??? The passion! The rhyme schemes! The raw animosity! The brilliance!!!!   ….Kudos to Puffy (or Puffy’s interns? lol) for “discovering” B.I.G’s material, but I think some of those big producers get a LITTLE more credit than they deserve. FFS, it’s B.I.G we’re talking about, not Vanilla fucking Ice or Milli Vanilli – oooh, or remember Shaq’s rap tape? No? That’ good… I found one once at a garage sale. Do yourself a favor and don’t bother listening to it. He houses every track with rappers who are far better than him, it’s fucking hilarious… At least ‘Ice Ice Baby” was catchy, it had fucking David Bowie and Queen on the hook. I mean… Not to defend the motherfucker TOO much, but props for sampling a decent song…  Hmm.. Complimenting Vanilla Ice is a strange way to end an article. Is anyone still fucking reading this? If you are, I apologize for the nonsense. It’s just… I like to write conversationally.  As I’ve said, professionalism is an illusion, and why not just talk like a human, even if you go off on a random 90s hip hop tangent? Maybe that’s a lame justification, but, I don’t know, whatever. The main beef and potatoes of the article are above, and  you’ve likely read it or skimmed it, anyway, so, whatever, eh?  Anyway, thanks for reading!!  I really, honestly appreciate it!!  If  you’re interested, feel free to subscribe  🙂

– StrangeFlow (Will)


Here: For your time and energy reading that last paragraph, you deserve this:

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