As today’s announcement of The Beatles on the iTunes Store illustrates, the thing about visionaries like Steve Jobs is that what’s important to them is important to us, even when it’s not. This is just the latest example, and probably not the last.


The best thing to come out of Apple’s announcement today is an end to endless cycle of speculation about when The Beatles would come to iTunes. Rumors on the subject have been turning up prior to Apple events going all the way back to the launch of the music store in 2003, and while The Beatles are the most well-known musical group in modern history, they are just one band, after all.

Admittedly, the announcement is big news for Apple Inc. The library is a guaranteed money-maker, and songs are available as individual purchases, possibly Apple’s greatest accomplishment regarding the whole deal. But it made a mistake in the way it went about promoting the news, and the Apple faithful and tech elite are expressing the disappointment resulting from that mistake across the web.

There’s one person who unquestionably thinks The Beatles’ arrival on iTunes merits as much fanfare as it got: Steve Jobs. At the launch of the iPhone in January, 2007, the album shown to the world when demonstrating music on the revolutionary new device was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At the time, not only had The Beatles rebuffed Apple’s overtures for the iTunes Music Store, but litigation between Apple and Apple Corps over names and logos was still ongoing. Has any other individual or organization at odds with Apple been treated so well? Turning one of the most popular web sites in the world into a teaser for The Beatles is just a continuation of the fanboy relationship Jobs has with the band.

If that seems like a small thing, it isn’t. The larger point coming out of today’s announcement is how Steve Jobs sometimes treats Apple: like he owns it. On more than one occasion, Jobs has turned Apple’s website into a kind of personal blog. A few years ago he was ranting about music DRM, and more recently about Flash. In both situations it was more than a rant, too. Decisions were made that directly impacted consumers. With music DRM, Apple’s long fight over song pricing ensured iTunes Store customers got DRM-free music long after other competitors. With Flash, Apple customers don’t get the same experience on websites with iOS devices that Android users do.

Though perhaps personally motivated, it doesn’t mean either decision was necessarily a bad one. Bad would be the Cube. When it was launched in 2000, Steve Jobs called it “the coolest computer ever.” In 2001, Apple VP Phil Schiller was stuck with announcing its discontinuation. The Cube put too high a price tag on form over function, and it wasn’t the last time Steve Jobs would make that mistake. The iPhone 4 has problems that echo the same hierarchy of values.

If it seems unfair to blame Jobs for these missteps, he certainly gets enough credit for the company’s successes. He’s regularly named the most successful, important CEO in business today, and it’s true. That’s why Steve Jobs gets to use Apple’s website to promote a band that means a lot less to those born after 1970 than the release of iOS 4.2 would today, annoying as that might be. Will he be more hands-off in the future as a result of the negative fallout from today’s announcement? Likely not. Should he be? Apple’s track record says probably not. What do you think?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

  1. “I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes,” said Ringo Starr. “At last, if you want it—you can get it now—The Beatles from Liverpool to now! Peace and Love, Ringo.”

  2. Excellent news, fills a huge gap in iTunes.
    A new generation of music lovers will hear
    the music. A shame they won’t experience that sense of
    amazement which we did back in the 60s and
    70s. These guys revolutionized popular music.
    To put Sgt Pepper on the turntable and know
    it had just changed music forever…that feeling
    will probably never be duplicated.

    Not impressed by the criticism of Steve Jobs.
    He makes mistakes, big deal. He runs it as if he
    owns it? A red herring. There’s no formula for what
    he or other creatives do. This is like blaming
    Babe Ruth for his strikeouts.

    1. Who are these ‘Beetles’ everyone keeps talking about?
      Wait, I’m going to ask my grandparents, maybe they know.

  3. Get over it. It’s nice that a big company actually has personality.

    1. Sorry man, but I miss your whole sour point and seems real petty!

      “Negative fallout” or better yet “That’s why Steve Jobs gets to use Apple’s website to promote a band that means a lot less to those born after 1970 than the release of iOS 4.2 would today”. What the heck are you talking about? Please dont tell me you think that Justin Bieber will be relevant 24hrs from now?

      I am glad that the Beatles are on iTunes and real glad that Apple Inc. was the one to bring them on.

      Perhaps you were an infant in the 90’s when these things happened, but you forgot to mention the salute Apple made on their home page to Akio Morita, George Harrison and a couple others that changed our world. I like the fact that a company has a soul and cares about stuff likes and shares it with us when someone of cultural importance is gone.

      Who cares about the next rev of IOS its software man……..

  4. A little presumptuous to assume the Apple web page takeover was solely Jobs – for all we know, it was part of the deal with The Beatles who are certainly a bit ego driven in their own right.

  5. People still use iTunes???? Amazing.

    1. Well, it it officially the #1 music retailer in the world right now. So, yeah, lots of people still use iTunes.

  6. I’d be happy if more CEOs actually make decisions and have a vision, that they can and will follow.

  7. I am sorry, but I doubt that Steve Jobs simply said ‘Lets put that on the front page’. As much as people would love to think Apple works like that, it doesn’t.

    I am sure that Apple is merely worried about the ever increasing competition from Amazon and wanted to display a significant differentiator. There aren’t many remaining.

    Also, while I’m in rant mode. The iPhone 4 was not a failure on any front. Sure – there was an antenna problem. Not that big. Blown out of proportion by the media. It was the most successful iPhone and the most sold smartphone this year – failure?

    Otherwise good article…………

  8. Yeah Charles, you just wanted to rant, didn’t you? :)

    Apple will probably make a ton of money from launching the Beatles in this way. I don’t care much for the band, but watching a bit of the old videos certainly made it quite tempting to go there and pick up some tracks. I think the launch was really well done.

    I do agree with you that we should be allowed to put some of the failures on Jobs as well, and that he acts like he owns the place, but I also think it was well said by @Ian, that it’s great if a big company has personality, and a CEO should get to put his own spin on things.

  9. That’s why we love apple. It has a soul (even if damaged at times).

  10. Oh Blah Dee Blah Dah Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    RE: “…The larger point coming out of today’s announcement is how Steve Jobs sometimes treats Apple: like he owns it….”

    REPLY: He SHOULD treat Apple like he owns it. The feeling of possession forces one to act responsibly and makes one take a serious interest in behaving in the best manner. Communism didn’t work because everyone owned everything and no individual was ultimately responsible nor accountable for anything.

    RE: “…Bad would be the Cube…”

    REPLY: I disagree. The Cube set a new direction in computer design and moved the PC from being equivalent of a toaster appliance in the kitchen to a device that could now be a fashion statement and an integral part of the decor of a home or office; Much in the same way people decorated their living or working environments with high-end stereo systems and big-screen TVs.

    Despite the low financial return on the Cube, it shows that Steve has the daring and courage to be a vanguard in hardware as well as software design. Because, if people like Jobs didn’t do it, we would still be living caves and burning animal fat for lighting.

    RE: “… If it seems unfair to blame Jobs for these missteps…”

    REPLY: These are NOT missteps. These are purposely designed marketing approaches that may or may not bear fruit. THAT is what a leader must do to stay out in front of the market, and is necessary in order to test new things, if one is to create new markets for future growth.


Comments have been disabled for this post