New York Times “oppresses” workers worse than Apple

Today’s Sunday New York Times used two and a quarter pages of its front section — including the top-left quarter of its vaunted front page — to blast Apple for oppressing its workers. Which is ironic, because the New York Times Group is even worse to its employees, using the paper’s own metrics.

As it often does, the Times launches its attack on the most successful company in the world by focusing on how much revenue it takes in:

Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.

But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth. While consumers tend to think of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., as the company’s heart and soul, a majority of its workers in the United States are not engineers or executives with hefty salaries and bonuses but rather hourly wage earners selling iPhones and MacBooks.

But the most interesting twist in this particular harangue is the use of a blunt-instrument metric, revenue per employee, to show how unfairly Apple treats its workers. According to the story, Apple took in $473,000 per Apple Store employee. When you consider that Store employees only take in about $25,000 a year, the conclusion is inescapable: oppression. Amirite?

Glass houses, New York Times. Glass frakkin’ houses. Turns out that according to its own reported numbers (from its 2011 Form 10-K), the New York Times Media Group had 3,056 serfs employees toiling for it in 2011 and made $1.554 billion that year. Yes, with a b. Whipping out my favorite iProduct (note my obvious fanboy bias), that works out to to a revenue-per-employee figure of $508,507.85. Oh, the humanity!

(Curiously, the David Segal article quotes Apple blogger Horace Dediu, who has written about these metrics before. Dediu says that revenue-per-employee ratio is like that of a consulting company. Given how incredibly reasonable and intelligent Dediu’s writing is, I have to think that his quote is taken out of context.) (Update: Read Horace’s excellent piece explaining the job growth at Apple stores.)

The truth is that no one goes to work for the Times or for Apple for the money. (Yes, I realize that Times CEO Janet Robinson got a $23 million severance package late last year, but that’s for leaving her job. Totally different.) People work at these two institutions to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The Times used to be the most respected newspaper in the country. (Sorry. Too soon?) And Apple keeps changing entire industries. Even Segal’s article recognizes that an hourly wage is not what makes people work in Apple Stores:

But Apple’s success, it turns out, rests on a set of intangibles; foremost among them is a built-in fan base that ensures a steady supply of eager applicants and an employee culture that tries to turn every job into an exalted mission.

“When you’re working for Apple you feel like you’re working for this greater good,” says a former salesman who asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. “That’s why they don’t have a revolution on their hands.”

Indeed.

How to make a billion dollars

From iMore:

Apple has announced that sales of their third-generation iOS tablet have reached three million since Friday, making this Apple’s best iPad launch to date.

That’s over a billion dollars in a weekend. If everyone bought the low-end $499 version, that’s a cool billion and a half. With many people paying more for 4G capability and higher storage, the real total is probably closer to $2 billion.

Wow.

“Garden-variety marketing doucherosity”

Simon Sage of iMore uses what is now my favorite new phrase to explain how AT&T has created a little upgrade of its own. The much-maligned carrier used the cover of today’s new iPad announcement (and upgrade to iOS 5.1) to change the little “3G” icons on iPhones to “4G,” despite no actual change in speed or performance:

If you’ve updated your AT&T iPhone to iOS 5.1, you may have noticed that the signal indicator in the top-left now reads 4G instead of 3G. Now, before your mind gets blown all over the place, there’s no actual upgrade here; it’s just your garden-variety marketing doucherosity wriggling its slimy way into a software update.

Maybe it’s legally accurate, and maybe no one will really notice during the frenzy of the new iPad introduction. But in the end, it comes down to this: there are companies who play games like this, and there are companies who don’t. Who would you rather do business with? I just ordered my new iPad, and didn’t choose AT&T as my carrier.

What George Lucas can teach you about business by making Star Wars worse

Confession time: I’m a Star Wars geek. I was born in 1967, so I was nine going on ten when Star Wars hit the theaters. I went to see it with my Little League team, and it changed my life.

But the truth of the matter is, Star Wars is only one-third good. The first two movies are excellent. Return of the Jedi has its moments, but they’re lost among too many Ewok hijinks. The prequel trilogy is basically a honking mess.

But many fanboys (and fangirls) of my generation get particularly worked up when George Lucas trots out yet another “special edition” of what is supposed to be immutable canon. This all started in 1997, with the first “special edition” rerelease of the first movie — the version that created the “Han Shot First” rhubarb. Fans screeched that Lucas was making the movies worse!

This issue has returned because Lucas has just rereleased a new version of The Phantom Menace, widely regarded as his worst work since Howard the Duck. But in this hysterical piece, Chris Bucholz explains why we fanboys ought to just shut up and let George do his worst:

Really, if Lucas wants to fix something he thinks was a mistake in an earlier film, that’s his business. Our lives aren’t affected in any serious way if he changes it, nor does he have a contract with us to preserve The Phantom Menace as some kind of cultural monument to poor plotting. We’re just not talking about something that’s that important — it’s not the Constitution, or the Bible, or The Godfather.

The bottom line is, successful businesspeople create the things they want to create, not what they think the customers want. Henry Ford famously said that customers would have asked for a faster horse. (Actually, it turns out, he may not have said it.) Steve Jobs’s Apple didn’t use focus groups, and never asked us if we wanted a physical keyboard on our iPhones. Geniuses — like Ford, Jobs, and Lucas — create the things that they feel passionate about. That’s what geniuses do.

If those things fill a need with customers, then the success will follow. But success does not come from slavishly following the whims and wishes of fanboys. Don’t listen to your customers more than you listen to your passions.

John Gruber on Apple’s Mountain Lion

On his world-class Apple-related blog Daring Fireball, John Gruber reports on his impressions of Apple’s forthcoming new operating system. As usual, he deftly sums up the key to Apple’s success — simplicity:

The changes and additions in Mountain Lion are in a consistent vein: making things simpler and more obvious, closer to how things should be rather than simply how they always have been.

New book on Apple coming soon: Insanely Simple

Insanely SimpleAuthor Ken Segall, who writes the blog “Observatory,” has a new book coming out in April about how Apple has used the principles of simplicity to achieve its remarkable success. Segall was Steve Jobs’s agency creative director for 12 years. Here’s a quote from the book’s site:

To Steve Jobs, Simplicity was a religion. He built a company based on its principles, in which the complexities of traditional business were simply not tolerated. Simplicity was also his most powerful weapon—a means of humbling category leaders once thought to be invincible.

The book looks promising; I’ve already preordered my copy. You can order yours from Amazon here (affiliate link).

Why choices hurt profitability

Great piece from Andrew Kim at Minimally Minimal from a few months ago on how market share is a misleading metric, and not nearly as important as profitability. Tech pundits are often talking about how Android dominates the smartphone market compared to iOS. But Apple makes far more profit than any other smartphone maker. One likely reason is the bewildering array of choices that Android manufacturers offer compared to just four types of iPhone. Look at Kim’s graphic showing Samsung’s complete smartphone line compared to Apple’s. He sums it up brilliantly:

I truly feel that a simple, focused and powerful product line is what’s not only better for the company but also consumers. Seriously, if you had to buy a Samsung phone, which would you buy?

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