Saturday Afternoons: How Apple Is The New Tower

This guest post comes from Jack Isquith, the head of Strategic Development for Slacker Radio and author of the Digital Music Insider blog.

image from www.google.com For those of you over 30, I want you to remember what it was like to be a teenager on a Saturday afternoon. Meeting your friends downtown; hanging out, looking for connection.

As a New York kid, I often met my friends at the Tower Records on 4th Street and Broadway. It was always packed — buzzing with music and noise and energy. It had a vibe. Everyone was there. At least everyone I wanted to see.

When’s the new Bowie coming out? Is Eno producing this one? What does he look like now? Is it gonna be Soul? Punk? What’s Bowie gonna to do next?”

Now, I visit any downtown Apple store on a Saturday afternoon.

It is always packed, buzzing with music and noise and energy. It has a vibe. It feels like everyone is there.

When’s the new iPhone 5 coming out?  Is it gonna have an 800 million pixel camera? A bigger screen? An even faster processor? More storage? Will it come out in White??”

Going to an Apple store on a Saturday is a social event.

It’s where virtual morphs into physical. Where solitary surfing turns into camaraderie. The Apple store is where hanging out, caressing potential new toys, and plugging into a vibe come to life…all under the banner of commerce.

How did the migration happen? How did we get from Tower to Apple?

Anyone who tells you they absolutely know, is suspect in my book.

It’s fashionable to point at the bumbling of record label, publishing and RIAA strategies in the wake of Napster. All were really bad. And all were probably small potatoes.

What changed from the 70’s and 80’s when teens would go to a friend’s house to listen to an album to today’s “let’s play YouTube videos while we watch TV and text”, landscape?

I can’t give you the answer with 100% certainty. I’m not smart enough to wrap it all up in one blog post, that’s for sure.

How can you capture the enormity of the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, Watergate, the mainstreaming of Wall Street, the end of the cold war, globalization — for starters.

Let’s speak in broader terms. Economic, political, and sociological factors all changed radically. The whole world changed profoundly.

Like all my favorite bloggers, I have a theory.

I was a typical teenager  years ago, music was key to my point of view on the issues of the day. It was my teenage identity. It was my badge, and it was my language.  Of course I went to Tower Records on a Saturday afternoon.

Then, amidst all these momentous changes, along came the web.

Technology has become the language of teen life — technology is the teen membership badge. Technology allows teens to connect.

And so they go where they feel most at home, most like themselves – they go to the Apple store.

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  1. Jack –
    Great correlation… I have kids and they are most cretainly exhibiting the same passion for all things techno as we did for vinyl back in the day.

  2. I go the the Apple store in Soho every Saturday. It is really bustling with people and always packed. People hanging out to meet though? Not so much. People are normally buying things… hip and rich people. What does Apple have over Tower Records? It’s made it easy to be “into” what’s cool for any age group. Yes, different ages could be found shopping at Tower, but less children and not as many women. At the Apple store you’ll see a wider array of people from all age groups, genders, and walks of life. Why? Because you’re dealing with products that have multiple ways of entertaining consumers and therefore a much better chance of reaching them. Apple makes products that play movies, television shows, music, surf the web, games, etc, etc. So of COURSE more people are going to be into it. There’s more that will satisfy the wants of the many.
    “Anyone who tells you they absolutely know, is suspect in my book.” – Um, it’s just common sense?

  3. For a short period,in the late 90s and early 2000s, the coffee shops and bookstores were The Hangout. You could find hipsters, oldsters, artist, anarchist, all fuel by discussions and disagreements about art, music, politics. Strangers became friends. The the chains(which I have nothing against) worked hard to capture that audience and were slightly successful. Then the bookstores that were inviting folks to come and stay, started to take away the comfy chairs, discouraged reading groups and now those chain stores are struggling. Could there be a correlation?
    Will Apple continue to nurture this Saturday Hangout atmosphere? Who knows?

  4. Actually I think most of them are playing games. I go online and see 860,039 players online right now playing Call or Duty: MW2. There’s your audience. Not 350 kids in one Apple Store, but 100,000 playing each every game known to man. You could never watch MTV, and see how many other people were watching with you. Now you can, but it isn’t a monolithic MTV anymore it is XboxLive, Playstation Network, and Zynga, plus all the second and third tier gaming networks.
    Do a cost per hour of original entertainment equation and you’ll find gaming to be a much better value. No wonder Tower records is dead, and incase you didn’t notice Android is crushing Apple in inovation.

  5. Nice article Jack. Apple is not the new Tower though. I worked at Tower in the final months. When I got there it was already corrupt and in receivership with numerous complications driving the business further into the ground: Managers using employee discount codes to sweeten music reps, upper management meetings ending up in the parking lot smoking weed (which sounds great to me but is highly unprofessional), cocaine being sent overnight in vinyl overseas packages to fellow associates, theft, Ticketmaster outlets being used for preferential treatment of music reps. Indeed, the last point was where I resigned due to threats of violence from one manager for not “playing the game”. Apple are hardliners and run business (when they are not allowing dumbass code jockeys to screw up product development) with a tenacious, merciless strategy that verges on world domination. Tower were hippies at heart and kept rolling the blunts bless them. It used to be the best record store in the world.

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