I've been putting a lot of thought into Apple lately, and just how gutsy their decisions were in the latter half of the 2000s and some of the parallels of the situation they found themselves in compared to where we see the print industry today.
When the iPod was released back in late 2001, it forever changed how music was consumed. Within four years Apple was selling over 50 million units annually, and in 2006 the iPod reached its peak percentage of Apple’s revenue, at around 40%. But by 2014 the iPod’s percentage of Apple’s revenue amounted to what was basically a rounding error.
So, what happened?
Put simply, the iPod was relegated to the sidelines by a better product with better technology. A product that had more bells and whistles, and provided significantly more value for consumers.
The product? The iPhone.
Apple saw where the world was going, and knew that, despite the fact that the iPod had played a significant role in their revenues, not to mention a change of the music industry landscape, as a hardware product the iPod simply wasn’t a part of the future. And so, Apple cannibalized their own product's sales to ensure they had an offering that lined up with what consumers wanted, and they're obviously all the better for it.
“We have three categories of what we call pocket products. Traditional MP3 players, iPod Touch, and iPhone. For traditional MP3 players, which includes Shuffle, Nano, and Classic, we saw a year-over-year decline which we internally had forecasted to occur. This is one of the original reasons we developed the iPhone and the iPod Touch. We expect our traditional MP3 players to decline over time as we cannibalize ourselves with the iPod Touch and the iPhone.” - Peter Oppenheimer, Apple CFO, June 2009 Earnings Call.
It seems so obvious in hindsight (don’t most things?), but I can’t imagine how difficult that decision would have been at the time. The iPod had been a cash cow for Apple and compared to a lot of other high-profile flagship products across history, they hadn’t really been milking it all that long.
By 2008 the iPod had almost 50% market share on mp3 players. They didn’t really have any competition in the space. From the outside looking in they probably seemed poised to continue to ramp up market share and dominance, and I’m sure many intelligent people would have looked at their position and said: “don’t change a thing!”.
Apple realized they were winning a game that wasn’t going to be around much longer, and instead of focusing on how to stay on top of that game, they started playing a new one.
In thinking about these ideas, I can’t help but contrast this with the print and imaging industry. It’s no secret the channel is in a pivotal moment. Declining print needs and the resulting decline in A3 sales and placed contracts, combined with the potential of large-scale industry shakeup (Xerox and HP perhaps?), highlight the need to think about things differently.
At face value, there aren't many positives to take away from those numbers. This isn't meant to sound like Chicken Little (the sky isn't falling), but things are absolutely changing. While we at MPSToolbox are clearly quite bullish on that change, we view it as an opportunity to lean into, not an impending catastrophe to run from (or something to pretend isn't happening).
When things aren’t changing all that much, doing what you’ve always done can work. In a world that’s quickly evolving, doing what you’ve always done is a recipe for being left behind.
I get it. When you’ve been successful with something for so long, to switch gears and move in a new direction must be extremely difficult. It’s even harder to make changes if you’re still seeing success. Is winning a bigger piece of a shrinking pie sustainable in the long-term? Or should you make like Apple, and start playing a different game?
A different game can mean a lot of things. Diversifying product and service offerings to include things like IT or security. Changing workflows to adapt to new ways of customer buying (it’s 2020—e-commerce is real folks). Expanding on opportunities in the transactional A4 and supplies market.
Every business and every market is a little bit different, but they’re all operating in the same macro world. And the trends in that macro world are pretty clear.
Is your business ready to compete in this new market? Whether you want to expand into IT products, capitalize on transactional sales that are being captured by the big box retailers, or simplify your lease offerings and make financing available on the devices customers actually want and need, MPSToolbox can be your partner in this transition.
If Apple can cannibalize a product that generated $4 billion in revenue in a single quarter alone (Q1 2008) because they saw where the world was headed, it gives me hope that at least some of our channel will make the necessary changes to not only ensure survival but to thrive in a world where things like e-commerce and transactional opportunities are quickly becoming the new normal.