The iPod U2 Special Edition

1 Dec 2004

Paul R. Potts

I have only a few comments on this item. The first is that I want one. Not because of U2’s signatures or the included songs or coupons for the boxed set, but because I’d like to have an iPod, and I like my consumer electronics toys to be black. I could live without the red scroll wheel, but I suppose it is OK. I look reasonably good in a nice dark red. But it also comes with the standard white headphones, which goes quite a ways towards ruining the allure of the black unit altogether.

I would definitely use an iPod, both for music and downloadable audio programs, which could make my work existence a little more bearable this grim fall and winter, and for carting around other files. But my objection is mainly that it is too expensive; I can’t feel comfortable spending that much. If I could write programs for it, or use it to learn a new programming language, develop a demo, or advance my career or hobbies in some way, then perhaps. But even so, and even though I’m now employed and earning a decent salary, with a new baby and the prospect of a bleak economy and more unemployment in the future, it is just too much of a luxury item.

My last point is that I think Apple is making a mistake in pricing the black U2 iPod higher than the standard model. I’d consider buying one – with the strange white headphones, with the signed case, with the “big U2 fan” (which I’m not) aura to it – but I certainly wouldn’t pay m ore for what is essentially a style distinction, not even a brand distinction.

To digress as I love to do: I did count myself a U2 fan in the Boy/War era, and I love Steve Lillywhite’s work as a producer. I liked their work with Brian Eno quite a bit as well. I still have some bootleg casettes of U2 playing in small venues doing “I Threw a Brick,” “Stories for Boys,” and “An Cat Dubh.” But that was a long time and a lot of albums ago. I haven’t bought a U2 album for almost twenty years. U2 these days doesn’t get a lot of points as a brand to me; there’s just not really very much allure left. In the same vein, as an REM fan who bought Murmur and Chronic Town on vinyl, and saw them live on the Fables of the Reconstruction tour almost 20 years ago, I can honestly say that we’ve both moved on. But the people Apple is marketing this to are perhaps younger: those who first heard of REM around the Green period, and who first heard of U2 around the Achtung, Baby! release, when both bands were indisputably mainstream pop.

But even assuming I’m not the target audience, I think Apple has a misconception about the allure of “limited-edition” and “co-branded” products. I think these things will get people’s attention, but the same people will then quickly run a cost-benefit analysis in their heads. The U2 brand and the “special” aspects of the product will in fact draw people to it, but I don’t believe that they will want to pay a higher price for this cachet. I don’t want to, and probably won’t… if I do eventually buy an iPod, and can’t get a black one for the same price, I’ll probably get an white one. Or a mini, even though the size limitation will make it less convenient (just putting my unabridged Tolkien audiobooks will probably fill half of it), strictly based on price.

Apple should be thinking of the co-branding as a way of getting people in the door, and any extras in the box as an incentive to move iPods, not as a way to increase the price.

As for the extras that go in the box, like the poster, and the $50 coupon towards the U2 “every song” set – they do not fundamentally add value for me. I could say “well, I would have purchased the set anyway, so this is actually saving me money.” But it doesn’t do that; even if I was likely to purchase the set, which I am not, paying $50 more to get a $50 coupon wouldn’t really give me anything, would it? A discount coupon works as an incentive to get someone to buy something that he or she would not buy otherwise. The set will be a big-ticket, high-profit item. Discounts entice more people to buy it, with a modest hit to the per-item profit margin. But paying extra for the coupon would just mean putting a down payment on something I’m not likely to buy. It would be like buying myself a gift certificate. Where’s the fun in that?

Addendum: had I been more flush with cash, I definitely would have bid on the Unauthorized U2 vs. Negativland iPod being auctioned on eBay. The complete Negativland catalog represents a lot bigger bonus, and the collector’s aspect is real. Unfortunately, Apple has little sense of humor about things like this, and the auction has been suspended. Sigh.

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