Steve Jobs And The Radical Innovation Of Fair Prices For Great Products

on August 5, 2013

I’ll trade you one Twitter re-tweet and a Facebook Like for two LinkedIn endorsements. Deal? How about if I throw in a recommendation on Yelp?

In a world where it seems as if everything has a value, adjusted in real-time, tailored for each specific person based upon their unique wants, needs, interest and location, auto-managed by Big Data, leveraging platforms eagerly funded by Silicon Valley, and all of it executed by a ever-expanding range of bartering algorithms which forever traverse the world wide web, why is it so damn hard to put a actual price on anything?

Excepting Apple products.

I love love love the fact that Apple cares enough about its products – and me – to put a specified price on each of its products, clearly marked, unchanged by locale or season or aggressively savvy salespersons.

Want a Mac? An iPad? Want to download that song on iTunes? Want to purchase that book on iBooks? Want that newest app? The price is obvious. No games, no gaming.

Why is it that so few tech companies, even (supposedly) great ones, are unable to match this simple act?

Microsoft Office has been around for about 20 years. I would honestly not be surprised if every single reader paid a different price than I did. Worse, if you want an online version, or want to be able to access Office on your iPad or Android, for example, you may need to hire an accountant to decode the pricing scheme.

This is not done for our benefit.

I am here, money in hand, ready to buy your product. Just tell me: what does it cost? It cannot possibly be so hard to answer so simple a question, can it?

I’m not simply picking on Microsoft. Amazon is constantly gaming me. Offering an endless series of deals, specials, “gold boxes”,  cheaper prices if I subscribe to Prime,  free stuff if I get a Kindle, virtual coins if I download their Android store.

Still worse, they further compound their anti-customer complexity by offering different prices for the exact same product to different customers. Apparently, Amazon’s big data cloud can alert the company in real-time to exactly how much I am (really) willing to pay. Clever tech, I suppose, but it makes me feel used and cheated.

Apple seemingly stands alone in standing behind its products. The price is listed, take it or leave it.

Google, meanwhile, dares not charge any of us for their service. This speaks volumes. Of course, while they may be unable to divine a price for their very own search and map offerings, they’ve clearly determined how much I am worth to anonymous advertisers.

It really is this radically simple: Build a great product, one that is desired, and market demand will ensure you always achieve the optimum price. Construct a sub-par offering and you must always play a sort of Big Business version of three-card monty.

For example, can you actually tell me how much you paid last month for cable? You’ve had cable television for years. They send you a bill every single month. Yet you aren’t sure of the price being charged? Really? How much does your HBO cost? ESPN? Cable without ESPN? These really should not be unanswerable questions.

Why did every single person on the very same flight pay a different price than you? Does that make you feel like you cheated someone – or were cheated on? Can all these various businesses really only succeed by using vastly superior computing resources to effectively steal from us?

Not Apple. Not Steve Jobs.

Yes, Jobs was a “product guy,” a visionary, a demanding SOB –  one of the crazy ones. He was also a damn smart businessman. Jobs understood that gimmicks and obfuscation are the hallmarks of those unable to offer a truly great product.

Do not be fooled. The oft-promoted notion that our personal algorithms will latch themselves to various network bots and travel the “google” and buy what we need at the best price available, is a con.

You really think your “price bot” will ever out-compete Amazon’s or Google’s?

It’s time we use our sizable purchasing power – all of us – and disrupt Silicon Valley and the Big Data hegemony, which insists upon ever-changing prices, at inexplicable times, for unknowable reasons, based on their constant and hidden buying and selling of who we are, what we care about, and what we need. This is a game we can never win – because it’s been designed to work against us.

Of course, this battle cry should not be considered a call to revolution. Rather, a simple demand for the obvious: Show me your product. Tell me the price. I can then make the decision if it’s worth it. That’s all I’m asking for. And that’s exactly what Apple delivers. It’s just another way they make my life easier, better.

Steve Jobs was on our side. Too many others are not.

Image courtesy of Apple