September 12, 2014 Last Updated 9:15 am

If… Apple were a newspaper or magazine company within a decade it would no longer be a newspaper or magazine company

Apple’s success proves that innovation, experimentation does not instantly lead to success, nor is it necessary to abandon ones core products while it is transforming itself

A couple of days ago, while Apple was introducing new iPhone models and previewing its smart watch, I was in conversation with an old friend about the transformation of Apple from a personal computer company to a consumer electronics company. We talked about the comparisons of the company to what we say going on in the publishing industry.

The conversation allowed us to not only imagine what a company like Apple would do in a similar situation to say Gannett of Future plc, but also to get a grip on our feelings about Apple’s new direction.


Apple revenue 1990-2013. Click/tap to enlarge

Many media observers over the years have done thought experiments about what traditional media companies would look like if run as if it were a Silicon Valley company. But when considering Apple as that company one quickly concludes that any media company run like Apple soon would find itself very different.

In 1996 Apple bought NeXT, which meant the return of Steve Jobs and within a year Jobs was acting CEO – a year later came the iMac.

Many mark the rebirth of Apple with the launch of the iMac, and from a strategic stand point it did. It signified that Apple was wiling to rethink form factors and introduce new products. But that did little to turn around Apple’s financial performance. It was the introduction of the first iPod that began Apple’s revenue rise – and even then it was modest… at first. By 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone, revenue was growing exponentially. In fact, many worried that iPhone sales would eat into the very fast growing iPod segment. When Jobs introduced the iPhone he mentioned that the new product was three things, and the first of those was a widescreen iPod with touch controls.

One could interpret the chart above-right as meaning that first Apple needed to experiment with how to become something other than a personal computer company, and that after several steps, it successfully transformed itself into that new company. No one product transformed the company, it was the search for new products, new markets that transformed the company.

In the end, my friend and I agreed on two things: if Apple ran a traditional media company it would begin looking outside of its main products for growth, not looking to successfully transform those products for a success within a new environment; and that it would take time and multiple launches to finally see financial progress.

Also, we agreed, like Apple, this wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the traditional products. I believe Apple’s executive team really does still love the Mac.

Finally, we wondered why, if this would be the way Apple would transform itself as a media company, why so many media companies would think it wise to spin-off its traditional media properties, to let them die by themselves, burdened with debt and without the support of a diversified company. Do they love their legacy products the same way Apple executives love the Mac? What model, other than personal and shareholder gain, are they following that has a proven track record of success?

It should be added that neither my friend nor I thought Apple would have any interest in taking on such a challenge, nor that they would necessarily succeed if they did. Further, one wonders if Jeff Bezos will have much success at the Post, as Bezos appears to be following the other tech companies when it comes to their tablet and phone strategies. But at least it can be said that the new owner is not coming out of the same corporate culture as other media owners.

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