Monday, February 5, 2007

The Geeks vs. the Heads

Some people may care about the Colts' upset victory over the Bears in yesterday's superbowl, but most people between the ages of 20 and 70 know the really big story is the victory of the Geeks over the Heads. In more modern lingo, it's the triumph of Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer) over Apple Corps, the Beatles' business entity. The computer wonks have won out over the greatest pop band of all time.

For decades, the two Apples have been duking it out over the use of the name, and of the eponymous fruit depicted in their logos. Initially, the music business and the computer business were so widely divergent that no one would ever have mistaken one trademark for the other. In recent years, though, Apple's (the computer one) ventures into the iPod and iTunes have put it squarely in the path of Apple (the Beatles' one). Yet another lawsuit was pending when the current deal was announced. Basically, the computer company now owns the Apple trademark, and will license it back to the Beatles' music company for some uses.

This is the triumph of medium over message. The company that controls the technology dominates over the company that creates the actual content. The Beatles and Apple Corps have been making money hand over fist since the 1960's, but the (1970's vintage) computer company is the real powerhouse. In some sense, it was ever thus. The fortunes of all the big recording artists have been dwarfed by those of their managers and record labels. But somehow, this Apple v. Apple resolution seems to bring this ironic disparity into sharper focus. These were two giants, in some sense each the pinnacle of its field: groundbreaking counter-culture music vs. technology.

The silver lining that everyone's hoping for is that maybe the Beatles' recordings will finally be available through iTunes. Neither Apple is commenting on that, but hey, at least it's not Microsoft!

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