March 19, 2014 Last Updated 7:59 am

The media’s need for a meme concerning Apple’s future leaves consumers, publishers cold

The latest “Apple is doomed” tome has come from a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and was met with distain from the company’s CEO, and the inevitable piling on by the tech press. Yukari Iwatani Kane’s Haunted Empire had yesterday received nothing but negative reviews on Amazon.com from those who supposedly had read the book. But today, very predictably, a few five-star reviews have appeared from those who probably haven’t read the book either but are sure it speaks the truth about the decline of Apple.

HauntedEmpire-Kindle“This nonsense belongs with some of the other books I’ve read about Apple. It fails to capture Apple, Steve, or anyone else in the company,” Tim Cook wrote in a statement released by Apple.

“If Yukari Iwatani Kane’s Haunted Empire teaches us anything, it’s that a dogged newspaper reporter who wants to write a book about Apple needs a narrative hook to hang the story on,” Jason Snell wrote for Macworld. And so it goes.

For the tech and financial press, which thrives on Apple stories, the latest story is sure to be a money maker, drawing web traffic until the next story comes along. It’s actually pretty hypocritical of Cook to complain about the “nonsense” contained in the book since Apple goes out of its way to stay out of the press, to not agree to interviews from its personnel unless highly controlled, and to almost never respond to inquiries from the media, even when their lack of response will lead to negative press.

No stories or comments get retweeted more from TNM than when there is a complaint here about the condition of the Newsstand or App Store, or how unresponsive the Apple press team is.

This points to the real issues at Appel today, not the drummed up ones. No, Apple is not doomed. It is hard to be “doomed” with around $160 billion in cash on hand, it would hard to fear the imminent demise of the tech giant. On the other hand, Apple promoters, and there are plenty in the media, appear blind to the problems consumers are facing with Apple today.

iOS7-iPhone5-lgThe one item some appear ready to admit to was the misstep with iOS 7. “One of the best arguments that Apple has lost its way in the absence of Jobs, its lead tastemaker, would be the dramatic visual overhaul introduced by Cook and Ive with iOS 7,” Snell wrote.

Yes, iOS 7 was a bit of a mess. But it wasn’t just the ugly look of the overhaul, it was also what it did to customers – specifically developers. Since its release, the biggest wave of app updates I’ve seen were released. Few of the updates actually added anything to the apps other than stability. With iOS 7 also came Mavericks, and with it an overhaul of the iWork programs, minus many features. Another program, iBooks brought the program to the Mac. But iBooks Author was released without the ability to deal with embedded fonts, something the program had had for quite some time.

These things don’t bother tech and financial writers because they effect individual users. A story about how iTunes crashes, or how Safari will often require you to force reload pages if you have multiple tabs open, is just not very sexy. But Apple customers are feeling the pain. Many of Apple’s software products today just suck, it be brutally honest. (As an Apple customer since 1983 this pains me to say this.)

Does that mean I’m jumping to Windows? Yeah, right. And that is the point. All these things are correctable, and none are going to make an iPhone users suddenly reach for their old flip phone. A few may seriously consider Android, but let’s get real, the end is not nigh.

But this isn’t a game, either. At least not for those of us in the publishing business. The Apple Newsstand remains mismanaged, and poorly organized. Little has been done to improve the Newsstand since its launch in November of 2011. Then, the Newsstand contains hundreds of apps within what seemed like plenty of categories. Today, with well over 10,000 apps inside the Newsstand (on the iPad side) the store is a bumbled mess. For months there has been no changes to the way apps are promoted (outside the front page of the Newsstand they simply aren’t) and for weeks the categories themselves did not produce search results until finally fixed.

“I just don’t think it rises to the level of attention where it’s important to them,” Glenn Fleishman, the owner of The Magazine, told Geekwire in December. “They keep their focus very tight, and I think Newsstand is very, very far outside their focus, based on their actions.”

Newsstand-iPad-lg

The Newsstand mess: Professional & Trade category show no apps
promoted, the “New” section only listing apps in alphabetical order.

Fleishman is not alone in his concerns. “Once the holy grail for magazine publishers, promising front-and-center exposure for their periodicals, the Newsstand app in iOS 7 has become almost irrelevant,” Eddie Vassallo, CEO of Entropy wrote on Gigaom.

“So what’s happening here – is Apple actively abandoning the Newsstand concept or simply responding to user appetite and shifting demand in iOS 7?” wrote Fleishman. “The answer is probably a little of both.”

Fleishman is concerned that now that apps can download updates on their own, there is little reason to use the Newsstand writing that “the Newsstand and tablet magazine honeymoon is over. Apple knows it. The industry knows it. And consumers have made it painfully clear for far too long.”

But his solution, the stand-alone app, really is not much of an improvement when the rest of the App Store is not in much better shape. In fact, inside the Newsstand a publisher competes with 10,000 other publications. Outside the Newsstand, an in the App Store, they have to compete with about half a million apps for the iPad (over a million overall).

(Ironically, Apple just this afternoon used its App Store Twitter account to send out a promotional tweet for this new digital magazine app: Radio Silence. It is from 29th Street Publishing.)

I’ve argued that Apple simply doesn’t care because the dollars are too low. But that argument only goes so far, unless you think Apple is becoming General Motors, driven by the next quarterly earnings report. That is not a stretch. What can explain a decision such as closing the college Apple stores in Canada? Certainly these were never profitable, but they served the same purpose all Apple stores do, driving awareness as part of marketing. Are the stores now to be run as if they are not a marketing channel, but are as much based on same store sales as a Best Buy or Starbucks location?

Like it or not, and most don’t like it, publishers are very much dependent on Apple right now. This is why, not quite six months ago, I sought the opinions of publishers and digital publishing companies concerning the rise of Android and Amazon’s ecosystems. Are we seeing a major shift away from Apple? Most said no, but they believed we would soon. What has happened in the six months that have followed probably hasn’t changed anyone’s opinion: Apple’s universe remains dominant, but things are changing, mostly due to Apple, not Google or Amazon.

So, no Apple is not doomed. And no, all is not well. But the problems consumers and publishers are encountering are real, even if not the stuff of books or online posts. They are the real concerns of customers who must reboot their Macs, or relaunch iOS apps. Boring, but every day annoyances. And worse, they are the things that are preventing more readers, more sales, more revenue. It is hurting.

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