Ron Johnson on “What I learned building the Apple Store”

Apple’s former retail chief Ron Johnson recently left the Cupertino company to become CEO of JC Penney. While he builds his team (the Wall Street Journal suggests he’s recruiting former Apple colleagues), he’s written a guest post for The Harvard Business Review entitled, “What I Learned Building the Apple Store.” My favorite bit is right up front.

“When I announced that I was leaving Apple to take the reins as CEO of J.C. Penney this month, the business press (and lots of others) began speculating about whether I could replicate the Apple Store’s success in such a dramatically different retail setting. One of the most common comments I heard was that the Apple Store succeeded because it carried Apple products and catered to the brand’s famously passionate customers. Well, yes, Apple products do pull people into stores. But you don’t need to stock iPads to create an irresistible retail environment. You have to create a store that’s more than a store to people.”

I’ve often been with a group of people who visited an Apple Store just to visit it. No one intended to buy anything. Instead, we just wanted to walk around, talk with the employees and play with the toys. It’s the same reason my kids want to visit the Disney Store [1. Coincidentally, Steve Jobs himself reportedly had a hand in the Disney Store’s recent re-invention.]. Not just because they hope to get something (though they do), but because it’s an appealing place to be.

Jobs interview in theaters

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview will arrive in Landmark Theatres nationwide on November 16 and 17. But why?

The footage is from an interview Steve gave Robert Cringely for the 1996 miniseries “Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires.” Only 10 minutes of the 70-minute interview were used in the documentary. After Steve’s death, the show’s director Paul Sen found a VHS tape of the complete interview in his garage. He suggested that Cringley post it to his site as a “gift to the world.” Cringley had other ideas.

“‘[Sen] didn’t see any commercial value in it,’ Cringely said. ‘I have three kids I have to put through college, so I thought maybe we could sell it.’

Cringely sent Landmark Theatres co-owner Mark Cuban an email late one night, less than three weeks ago, to see whether there would be any interest in screening it on Landmark screens. Less than five minutes later, Cuban fired back that he was game…It’s not an expensive risk, though. The cost to give theatrical quality to a dubbed interview on VHS was only $6,000. Cringely’s math tells him he needs only 1,501 people to see the movie to turn a profit and notes that he has a ‘large extended family.'”

This is unsavory to me. I don’t begrudge Cringely’s right to make a buck, but this feels like he’s knowingly profiting on the man’s death and I don’t like it.

On an Apple-branded TV

Walter Isaacson suggests that Steve Jobs and Apple had been working on an Apple-branded TV, and are close to acheiving their goal. From Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs:

“‘[Jobs] very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant…’ Isaacson wrote. ‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ [Jobs] told me. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.’”

Of course, “I finally cracked it” doesn’t mean that a product is ready, but New York Times writer Nick Bilton lends further credence to the idea at the paper’s Bits Blog:

“I immediately began snooping around, asking Apple employees and people close to the company if a full fledged Apple Television was in the works. ‘Absolutely, it is a guaranteed product for Apple,’ I was told by one individual…It is coming though. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Let’s assume that Apple will release a TV of some sort. Would it be an actual television set or a souped-up version of Apple TV that connects to a customer’s existing set? For now I’m leaning towards a set-top box, as the logistics of selling an actual television seem daunting.

  • Who will sell it? HDTVs are big, space-hogging things. Are the smaller Apple Stores equipped to stock and display several units? What about authorized resellers?
  • How does service work? Unlike an iPhone or even a Mac Pro, an HDTV isn’t something you can carry into a Genius Bar.
  • What about Apple’s refresh cycle? Many people keep their TVs for years, even decades. Apple typically refreshes their hardware product lines every two years or so.

Steve Jobs bio release date moved up again

The release date for Walter Isaacson’s biography “Steve Jobs” has been moved again. I received this message from Amazon over the weekend:

“We have received new release date information related to the order you placed on August 25, 2011. The item(s) listed below will actually ship sooner than we originally expected based on the new release date:

Walter Isaacson ‘Steve Jobs’

Previous estimated arrival date: November 28 2011 – November 30 2011

New estimated arrival date: October 27 2011 – October 31 2011”

That’s a change of nearly a month. Originally set for release on March 6, 2012, the date was accelerated to November 21, 2011 last August. I’m looking forward to reading it very much.

“My neighbor, Steve Jobs”

Here’s a stellar post from writer Lisen Stromberg, who happens to be Steve’s neighbor:

“It was at Halloween not long after when I realized he actually knew my name (yes, my name!). He and his wife put on a darn scary haunted house (to be specific, a haunted garden). He was sitting on the walkway, dressed like Frankenstein. As I walked by with my son, Steve smiled and said, ‘Hi Lisen.’ My son thought I was the coolest mom in town when he realized The Steve Jobs knew me.”

It’s compelling to hear stories of Steve behaving like a normal human being, which is silly. Of course he does. It’s just that anecdotes of “Steve the friendly neighbor” are so rare, and confirm the hopes of fans who so desperately *want* their idol to be a “nice guy.” Anyone who’s been disappointed by a gruff or rude celebrity knows what I’m saying.

[Via The Loop]

How Jobs got people to pay for content

Here’s a great article from Charles Arthur at Paid Content. He explains how Steve Jobs convinced a flailing music industry that the very people who were downloading music for free from Napster would pay for the same priveldige:

“In 2003 Jobs persuaded the music companies – which wouldn’t license their songs to bigger names like Microsoft – to go with him because, he said, Apple was tiny (which it was, at the time). The risk if people did start sharing songs from the store was minimal…Jobs pried open many content companies’ thinking, because his focus was always on getting something great to the customer with as few obstacles as possible.”

That’s the clincher. I didn’t grab music from Napster for the thrill of getting something for free. I did it because it was so darned easy. When Apple asked me to pay $0.99 for a superior download experience [1. Ever download a file from Napster that wasn’t what you wanted?], I gladly did so. The lesson: I will pay for high-quality, convenient content.

Here’s hoping Cook can work Apple’s magic on the film and TV industry.