The Buyer/Seller Dance: Apple’s ‘Exorbitant Prices’ & Why Mac Users Should Gripe About Them

Most people seemed to spend most of their time trying to scrounge a few extra Kis or ration tickets without putting their lives in too much danger.

The Forever War, by Jon Haldeman

Scene: a downtown dance bar
Time: last night…

The music starts, and he stands up, looking down at her expectantly.

She follows suit, standing up from her place at the table right across from him. The music begins, a single drum beat, interspersed with syncopated percussion and a tick-tocking, clock-like sound. Less of a song and more of a mating metronome, primal rhythm pumps out of speakers concealed throughout the nightclub. He aims his left hand towards her and stretches out his right hand away from their table, pointing towards the dance floor. The music continues to rise, more instruments joining the basic melody, complexing it, building it.

The crude, aphrodisiatic cadence of the song mesmerizes her, stirring memories to which she has attached it. Itis her favorite song (unbeknownst to her, he paid the band to belt out this tune). She sways in rapturous, closed-eyed joy as the bandis lead singer sings -- no, moans -- the first verse. Part of her doesnit feel comfortable with the blatantly suggestive nature of the music. The few people on the dance floor dance in ways that imply the need for a hotel room more than a band in the background.

"I donit have to dance with him," she thinks. She wonders if she should have accepted the offer of the other gentleman. He appears to be having a less-seductive time with the woman heis now dancing with. All night, her current suitor has tried to lead her down a path she prefers not to go. All she wants is to dance. Sheis sure he will push it towards something more… intimate.

Giving in, though, her body goes into a fugue state, her body moving of its own accord as she moves toward the dance floor; he smiles and leads her on.

Itis hard to describe the earthy sexuality of the songis rhythm, but it addicts and intoxicates the woman nevertheless as she and her date slowly bob and weave through the sparsely occupied dance floor. As they dance on, the last thing on her mind is the fact that she is a "good girl"…

End scene

Sometimes I wonder if this scene is a metaphor of what we Mac users go through when we continue to pony up to pay whatever Apple charges for its products. Are we in some kind of dance with Apple Computer? Is Apple dancing the fine line between being a good capitalist and gouging a captive audience? Is Apple taking advantage of us during our "dance," because the music is right and the wine is flowing freely? Should we just back up and decide here and now to only dance with those who offer a "cheaper" dance?

Some will argue both sides, in favor of the flattering Casanova or in favor of the comparatively virtuous woman. But, he dances so well…

I like dancing with Apple, but I there are times with I pause and realize/remember that it sure costs a lot to get into this dance. I donit mind, since I feel Iim getting my moneyis worth.

Regardless, will those prices go down? And if so, when? The answers are easy.

If youire like me, youive often glanced longingly at the PC section of the store, looking at that 1GHz (Gigahertz) AMD machine for $999. Then you look at that 733 MHz G4 for $1699.

$999.
$1699.

The Mac: 733 G4, 40 Gig drive, 128 MB RAM, CD-RW, 32 MB nVIDIA graphics card. The PC: 1.1 GHz Pentium III, 128 MB RAM, 20 Gig drive, 32 MB nVIDIA graphics card.

$1699.
$999.

Itis maddening.

Let me get right to the point. If Apple had played the games that Dell (maker of the PC quoted above) and the rest of its ilk have been playing, Apple wouldnit be here today, but would be on the auction block, along with Compaq. We would have been happy for a while, but there would be no way that Apple could complete. But, those prices are still pretty high… $1699. $999.

On the other hand, If Apple had a $599 iMac, thereis no way the company could keep up with the demand. This is one of those Martha-Stewartian "good things."

But, today, those prices are still comparatively high. Why does Apple keep those prices high? Because they can. And should.

Hereis some anecdotal evidence.

Capitalism is good
I live in a neighborhood that is considered middle- to upperclass. Our home has just been appraised at US$126,000. And I tell my wife, jokingly, that we live in one of the "poorer houses on our cul-de-sac, so Iid hate to see how much our more moneyed neighbors up the street dished out for theirs.

Behind our house, now, a developer bought a wooded area and put up about 10 houses. The average price? US$260,000. And none of them are any bigger than our house. We asked the realtor why in the world are those houses are more expensive, and they are no better than ours. He replied, "itis what the market will bear."

This is similar to what Apple is doing. There are still many people out there buying Macs at Appleis "exorbitant" prices. Many of us donit like it, but many more of us are paying the asking price (maybe they donit like it, either). Granted, Appleis prices have come down since the days of spending $3000 for an entry-level Mac system (if you compare it to an iMac, or even to a top-of-the-line G4), but weid still like to see it go lower.

Of course, this is stuff you already know.

Somewhere else on this site, TMO Editor Bryan Chaffin made comment on Appleis intention to charge us $20 for an upgrade to OS X. His skin is now charred to "well done" over his "audacity" to demand that Apple offer at least one way to get it free. I donit want to argue either side of that point.

What I do want to argue is that Iim glad he argued that point. Not because he is necessarily right; I believe that what he is doing is part of the dance that we must dance with manufacturers like Apple.

Apple is the Casanova trying to see how far he can take us in this dance of retail pricing. We collectively play the reticent woman who wants to dance, but doesnit want to go too far. Appleis job is to charge us as much as it can for its products and services. Our job as consumers is to try to slow down the pace of the dance, and always push for lower prices.

Again, you already know this...

Apple tries to keep high profit margins on products sold. We, through our own voices or through those of an ombudsman like Chaffin, try to pull those prices down. It goes back and forth so much that is like a dance. Not necessarily a loveris dance, but a dance of sorts.

Maybe Chaffin is wrong about demanding that Apple not charge us for the OS X upgrade, but if thereis any chance that his efforts will help me to get it cheaper or for free, I say "dance on, brother!"

Lord knows Iim tired of paying the highest prices in the industry, Appleis industrial design be damned.

On a similar note, Iive finally talked myself into buying an iBook over a PowerBook G4, after my latest Apple laptop died. Itis all about the price, baby. I canit see myself giving Apple $3000 any more, just to spend it again one or two years later. In my opinion, the machines donit last as long as they used to (the trade-off of using standard -- cheap -- PC parts like IDE hard drives, I guess).

I feel, though, that more and more people will think like me. We may have the money, but will no longer pay that high price for that measure of built-in-obsolescence that the Mac now shares with the PC.

Any wonder that the iBook is selling like the proverbial hotcakes?

So, if you are wanting a new Mac, but are bemoaning the cost of those top-of-the-line machines, I feel your pain. Just keep in mind that the high-end PCs are in the same price ranges as Appleis, so we arenit the only ones suffering, if thatis really suffering. But, you and I still canit help but wonder when the market will no longer -- to borrow that realtoris words -- bear Appleis current pricing range.

Until then, I encourage Chaffin to keep complaining about prices. Who knows what effect that will have.

Maybe Apple really is dancing with us vis-à-vis pricing. Sometimes I wonder if itis an innocent dance, or one of those suggestive dances in which one or both partners try to see how far it will go, but will deny it if accused of doing just that.

Maybe, just maybe, we can get Apple to lower those prices sooner than the market forces them to. If that is true, people like Chaffin will think that all of the flame was worth it.

I know I will.

Rodney O. Lain has two left feet. When he isnit trying to dance his way through finishing a column, he is a columnist for The Mac Observer, with his "iBrotha" column.

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