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Apple’s Free Ride: Why Journalists Treat Product Launches Like News (observer.com)
94 points by techn9ne 1913 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

There is a show run by the government broadcaster in Australia called Mediawatch. It does just that, keeps watch on the news organisations to highlight when they are acting inappropriately.

They did a short segment on the launch of the new iPad this year [0] in which they echoed the sentiments of this article. They were especially critical of the excessive coverage given by the government broadcaster themselves, which is supposed to be particularly careful when it comes to even mentioning brand names in most other contexts (e.g. They never use the sponsors names when referring to sporting stadiums):

"Why on earth, we wondered, did ABC News Breakfast spend nine minutes in all on a bunch of techheads queuing outside a shop with a piece of fruit on it, to buy a marginally updated product that they could have got anywhere?"

[0] www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3464157.htm (the video and transcript are both here).

Ryan's a smart guy, but he has got this one wrong.

Product launches ARE news, no matter how you slice it. News is simply a product of what people want to know about, plus what people SHOULD know about.

So people want to know about new Apple products. So the news media delivers.

But they also SHOULD know about things like the failure of iOS 6 maps, which has been roundly slammed by the media. If the media were truly in bed with Apple, would it be writing this kind of negative portrayal?

Is there symbiotic relationship between the marketing departments of companies and journalists? Absolutely. Do journalists give them free passes? Hell no.

The product itself can at times be news--especially if it is a major technological advancement. What is NOT news is the "event," the perfectly choreographed dance between the corporation and the media, where the company manufactures fanfare and urgency and theater around the launch and the media turns it into reality by writing about it.

Many news staples fall into this category from movie premieres to press releases to anniversaries to deliberate "leaks."

I read the article differently. I think he's both smart and that he is spot on (but maybe Jarvis is the real source). Apple gets a lot of "free help" from the media, not to mention Hollywood, that other companies normally have to pay for.

I don't think he's suggesting that Apple has full control over what is said about them.

But that's sort of the point, they don't have to worry about that as much as other companies. They do not have to spend as much time and money trying to control the negative portrayals and carefully releasing positive ones. The media is flooded with positives about Apple. And Apple gets them for free.

I read it. The whole article. And all I can think after digesting what I read is, "U mad?" I think this journalist is just irritated that someone scolded them for "working the news cycle."

And it's not clear why saying, "Well Apple's events are also over covered!" is somehow a dodge for "The RNC is being massively overcovered."

P.S., If anything CES is undercovered. In the 10 years I've been following it I've never once felt like I have any clue what is going on there.

You didn't read it very well.

A) he's not a journalist. B) He's saying that however much the convention coverage is a problem, tech journalism is a bigger mess. C) His point is pretty clear: journalism purports to be reporters working for readers, but that is no longer the case.

A) Seems like he is. B) And I am saying that is faulty logic. C) I am not sure this is entirely true. But it's a different conversation than the one being had here.

Spoiler alert: Nothing. Nothing is going on at CES. I went as a journalist for both Engadget and CNET, and despite the huge volume of posts, finding interesting gadgets was a rarity. Most of the time, a huge amount of companies end up over-promise/under-deliver-ing products at a grand scale.

I think CES is for buyers at chain stores to meet up with CE manufacturers. It doesn't really have a huge point, in my mind. I think a highly curated "cool tech" show could do a lot better, and allow in consumers. A Vegas cool-tech show / hype machine would be really interesting.

Interesting. Maybe this is why I always feel like it is a gaping void in my perception... It actually is vacuous!

He's probably irritated cause he wasn't invited to the launch event.

I find most,"tech journalist" want their feathers stroked. Throw a couple of lunches; make them feel important and they'll write a bible about you.

So you deduced he is maybe part of the group you perception to have poor quality in work ethics. So do you think apple plays to that poor professional ethic by providing free and heavily discounted iphone samples to "tech journalists" ? Because they do it, actually they do it to any kind of journalist in Europe and that "offering" isn't available from most other smartphone brands.It saves them a lot of money they would have to spend in more common advertising venus and somehow I don't see it disclosed.

This article is wrong. I am always interested in hearing about Apple's products because they are so incredibly good, and the new features often have a dramatic impact on my life.

The 2007 iPhone introduction showed me what my future phone would look like. The latest LTE feature on iPhone 5? Awesome because it means I won't have to hunt around for wifi once it becomes widespread.

To sum it up, people care about these announcements because the company that makes them actually delivers (and they do it in style).

Is there somewhere in the article where he said that Max Harris doesn't want to read about Apple products? Otherwise, I'm not sure how your particular interest proves the article wrong.

If only AT&T could get lte outside of my cities airport I'd agree.

In addition, Apple doesn't release 8 products a year so their announcements are more notable in that regard.

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations." -- George Orwell

Well... There are many phone makers who would be happy if the iPhone 5 got less press coverage.

If there was one Android phone released every year, it would get at least as much coverage as the release of the iPhone.

The advertising buys are misleading, as Apple doesn't include (or directly disclose afaik) the money spent on their paid placements, which anyone who watches western media knows is quite substantial.

I think that only proves my point more: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-10/apple-the-ot...

Is that accurate that they never pay? I thought they refused to discuss it. I didn't mean to suggest that it refuted your point either way though, as I generally agree.

Also, they're spending close to half of what Microsoft is spending, but they have a fraction of the products, and they don't advertise to nearly as many audiences.

Apple contents that it actually doesn't spend money for most of the placements: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04...

I suppose you could put a monetary value on the free giveaways or horse trading that gets done though.

Polls say 1 in 5 in the US plan to get the new iPhone.

Its release certainly is news if that is the case.

True, but the article makes the point that the causality doesn't go only one way.

Maybe so, but from the perspective of a single writer or publication that's just a why.

Good for a company if they don't need to spend in advertising. For me, in an ideal world word of mouth if the product is good should be enough.

Apple master the process of creating expectations and surprising people, in their staged announcements, good for them.

Why the hate? envy?

It's not hate. If I ran Apple, I'd be doing the same thing. But JOURNALISTS are not supposed to carry water for business--let alone a multi-billion dollar corporation that could more than afford to get these messages out another way. What is Apple announcing at these events? New products they are selling. That's "news" under only the saddest of definitions.*

There are some great books written about this, namely Daniel Boorstin's The Image http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_event

Good for the company. Bad for people who think news hasn't been corrupted in the manner he describes.

In my case, the hate for things like this is that news has a purpose beyond enriching Apple's shareholders. In particular, an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy democracy. The constitution guarantees freedom of the press for a reason.

Ridiculous metaphors FTW: "You know, the twice or often thrice yearly events that bring everyone out to Cupertino, where they stand in line and contribute a few licks to the collective rim job the press loves to give Apple."

I'm deeply suspicious of this article, because it could have been written and published any time over the past several years, but Holiday chose today. My cynical impression is that he's just riding the wave of iPhone news and using a sensational headline to drive traffic. Oh, and what's this?

"Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator and a PR strategist for brands and writers."

It seems ironic to me that someone would lambast Apple for getting a free ride in the media, only to end the article with an advertisement of his own.

It's hardly a free ride. Sure, journalists pay more attention to apple than they maybe deserve, but that's not because journalists have some great apple bias. it's because the apple PR department works their asses off to cater to journalists and make their product launches media friendly events. They deliver their product in easily reportable chunks, and they craft a public image so that news about apple is what the media's customers want to read about.

"The media, when it’s functioning properly, should protect the public from marketers and their ceaseless attempts to trick people into buying things."

This may be true, but had media ever "functioned properly?". Nearly every media outlet generates far more revenue from advertising than from viewership/subscriptions. So of course the media is beholden to the marketers.

Apple masterfully plays the media with every product. The secrecy they keep before a launch leads to tons of articles speculating about features and reporting leaks. I agree with the author that it's all just a big infomercial.

I used to be a big Google News readers, but about a third of their Tech section is devoted to Apple, so I've gone to other sources.

"Apple’s marketing strategy these days is essentially 'hold off on the advertising, just sit back and let the media go hog wild.'"

What a joke.

In what way?

Apple does gain from the release events, but they have a huge advertising budget and run some of the largest known campaigns.

Huge only in the sense that a billion dollars is a lot regular people...Apple spends a fraction of what its competitors spend. Plus up until 2011 I think they spent about half of what they spend now.

Apple spends less than Microsoft, but it is almost entirely on a single product (the iPhone). Product for product, Apple's marketing budget is immensely larger than other similar companies.

And the iPhone is a bigger business than ALL of Microsoft's offerings combined

Per Vanity Fair:

"Exhibit A: today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.

No, really.

One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion."


FWIW, because of your comment about "before 2011", I was purposely looking at data from 2008, to help control for that (when the iPhone wasn't yet that popular as the original device kind of sucked; the 3G had just come out, however, as had the App Store, so things were already on an uptick).

Looking at data from 2007, it seems like Apple was spending a third what Microsoft was on marketing, and had half the revenue; arguably then, Apple was spending 33% less than Microsoft on advertising per revenue, not really "a fraction".

However, you seem to be correct about now: I pulled some 10Q's from this year, and it seems Microsoft is spending $3.4b/Q for $17b/Q in sales ($6b/Q profit) while Apple is spending Apple is spending peanuts (although I honestly couldn't find the data I needed to verify this from the 10Q) for about $35b/Q in sales ($9b/Q profit).

While looking into that further (as I was especially bothered that I couldn't find the exact advertising numbers), I then came across this article, which looks at yearly data and comes to the same conclusion.


And 10 years ago the opposite was true. Apple was on the verge of collapse and MS ruled the world. Fortunes change.

I'm really surprised Ryan Holiday made it on HN.

He's intentionally controversial - that's his strategy.

Because they get page views. And page views keep the lights on, through advertising.

There's two sides to this relationship: the media know apple sells as well, so they do their best to keep them prominent.

That said, the iMania can go too far at times: Today on the BBC news website (even right now), first item is "19 people killed in pakistan protests", 2nd item "Apple says map app will improve". I understand that first world problems have their share, but we 're talking about a very small part of the population that will actually care about either maps issues or the people who are affected by them.

It's heartening to see that the HN responses echo my sentiment. Also..

"Democrats or Republicans look too rehearsed on stage? Let’s pounce. Apple? Let’s sweep it under the rug."

Look too rehearsed? When presenting a demo to a client, managing an "Apple like" demo is the holy grail. Although, you could expect a political candidate to partly be "too rehearsed" and still be his real self (or his other pretend self) on stage.

Not that anyone reads newspapers anymore, but my local paper (San Jose Mercury News) is definitely guilty of this. Nearly every Apple product launch is front page news, and almost always glowingly positive. Other valley companies? Not so much.

A product launch is news, especially when it's something as absurdly popular as the iPhone. People lining up for days in advance, that kind of thing, is newsworthy, regardless of how you feel about the news cycle and advertising.

news corporations are just a proxy for what the public wants to know about. The news consumers (aka the market) dictate the type of news publishers report. Obviously we currently put a higher premium on covering apple launches and political conventions. If people did not want that, they wouldn't pay attention to those news outlets and subsequently those news outlets would either go under or change their coverage trends.

This is a preposterously naive understanding of how the news business works. Customers dictate what gets produced--no question--but so do a variety of other market factors. Namely, what is cheap and easy to produce for publishers. In the case of Apple news, these factors create a wicked cycle. Users click on shiny gadget stories and the news doubles down on such content because it's a lot easier and a hell of a lot cheaper to send a reporter to Cupertino than it is to send them to Baghdad.

ALL news can be made to be interesting and exciting. The problem is that the pay-per-pageview model heavily incentivizes blogs to grab low hanging fruit instead of doing the real (and often expensive) work of making the important news readable.

I disagree somewhat. It is true that certain news can be prohibitively expensive and/or completely barred by the country or another country however for the most part news that people care about enough to purchase and read will be obtained by a news publisher of some sort. We have already seen different business models develop to deliver news that would have been too costly to hire a team of dedicated reporters (e.g. Huffington Post). The fundamental rule of a free market should make news outlets proxy's for the consumers interests. This site in particular hosts numerous ideas where the current offerings do not match the consumers needs (sometimes due to market inefficiencies, sometimes due to new tech, sometimes due to new business paradigms that circumvent current legal/political impediments, etc). If the news industry is delivering news that is a hybrid of what the public wants and what is cheapest to report then inevitably there will be a business model that will spring up to deliver a better solution that optimizes for what people want and delivers it in a cost effective way.

It's obvious people go crazy for anything new Apple launches thus you as a blogger would be foolish to not write about it... Further it's obviously newsworthy.

Apple brought forth the smartphone revolution ( nailed the execution and others since copied). Also they have created other things like Siri (others copied their execution too). Thus it's no surprise millions are extremely interested in what new tech they'll be releasing.

For me though the iPhone 5 isn't too exciting... Nothing revolutionary or profound. Personally i was hoping they'd add a QR scanner to the built in camera.

Apple did not create Siri; it was an acquisition. However, Apple should get credit for bringing it to a wide audience.

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