What Will Be A Luxury in the Future? Everything Except Final Cut Pro.

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Apple blew it. But to appreciate just how they blew it, we need a little context. Here’s a good place to start: BBC News Magazine asks “What Will Be A Luxury in the Future?” Their answer is wrong. The correct answer is “everything.” Everything, with the exception of Final Cut Pro X.

We used to think of luxuries as things that would be very nice to have, but aren’t really necessary: an exquisite and rare wine, and exotic food, something indulgent and hard to come by. But more recently, luxury has been about assembling an identity. Specifically, postmodern luxury is all about using consumer goods to cobble together a collage that represents that image of ourselves that we want others to see. Whatever you want us to think you are, there’s a brand for sending that signal. You want us to think you’re a tortured writer? Ditch that $0.99 spiral-bound notebook from Staples and get a $7.99 Moleskine. Want us to think your a gourmet chef? Break out the All-Clad. Consumerism is everything you want to max out your credit cards to be.

It is precisely this meticulous construction and curation of identity is behind the explosion of “professional-grade” this and “high performance” that over the last decade. Luxury is not about comfort, style or class anymore, but about the elevation of a specific feature set within a product that a customer associates with their own identity to such a superlative degree that it would attract the most demanding and discriminating professional or connoisseur. And because these aspiring consumers want others to see them as that connoisseur or that professional, they purchase the product as a way of signalling that identity. (As always, the person’s actual identity is irrelevant.) For example, if a power drill is “pro-grade”, it means it is for consumers who want to be thought of as not merely handy but as builders. Every category of goods has it’s luxury or pro brand: cars, drills, cookware, notebooks, cellphones, teas, tequila, and software.

You buy the product to identify yourself with it. You don’t need the professional grade skillet because you are a professional, you need it to simulate that professional for others. It doesn’t mean that a consumer will always by the pro-grade of every product, it means that for that one characteristic that is important to their identity, the only limit to how much they’ll pay to signal it is their credit limit. For example, the person who cares about being thought of as a gourmet will pay up for All-Clad and a Viking stove, but won’t think twice about driving a Honda Civic.

Apple is great at this (as they are at a lot of marketing). Apple is the first luxury brand computer, not because it communicates status but because it projects a very specific identity–the creative aesthete. But make no mistake, the ability to project this is not simply due to branding. The features and performance have to be there. The fact that most people will never use those features or that power is irrelevant. Most people who buy Apple computers are not creative professionals just like most people who buy Bosch drills are not craftsmen. What matters is that these consumers want to be thought of as professionals in these fields, so they gravitate towards these devices. It’s identity as aspiration.

That said, Apple really blew it with Final Cut Pro X, and in so doing they made a very serious miscalculation that marketers everywhere should pay very close attention to.

Final Cut Pro X is Apple’s high-end video ending suite. And by high-end, I mean that Oscar-winning film editors edit with it. It was a video editor that did what professional film editors wanted.

But most of the sales of Final Cut did not go to professionals. It went to people who wanted to be professionals. Buying Final Cut Pro meant you were serious about video. (Did I say video? I meant film.)

But then Apple released Final Cut Pro X. And now everyone hates it. What happened?

To put it simply, they took the “Pro” out.

What changed is they cut out the pro.

Apple’s first mistake was attempting to redesign the product for consumers. Apple’s high-end products have an implicit problem. Lots of people want them because they are advanced tools and devices that professionals use, but all those things can make it very complicated to use if you’re an amateur and don’t know what you’re doing.

Now Apple could always sell “Final Cut Elements” for novices and amateurs, much like how Adobe sells a consumer-grade “Elements” version of it’s flagship Adobe Premiere video editing software. But amateurs who care about being seen as film people don’t really want that low-end stuff. You can’t call yourself a filmmaker if you use the stuff that is designed for regular people. And this is doubly true if you want to call yourself a filmmaker but haven’t actually made anything longer than a 3 minute Youtube clip.

The redesign was intended to make things simpler for amateurs by hiding advanced and esoteric features they would never use to avoid confusion, and by making certain behaviors automatic or the default so things would just work. And they succeeded. Final Cut Pro X is much easier for amatuers to use.

But the professionals–the people who actually make a living using Final Cut–hated it. And because they hated it, the consumers hate it even though it is actually easier for consumers to use. Yeah, it’s great for amateurs, but who aspires to be an amateur?

Now go read the professionals’ complaints: obfuscated multi-camera editing, no sharing workspaces with other editors, no support for RED or P2 cameras, no output to tape (tape?), no exporting edit-decision-lists, etc. Not only are these not the kinds of problems that amateurs would ever have, I’m not sure amateurs even understand them.

What happened is that the backlash from real professionals destroys any semiotic meaning conveyed by the “Pro” in Final Cut Pro. When the pros are dissatisfied with the product and can make their dissatisfaction known immediately through blogs and social media, your upscale “Pro-grade” whatever is immediately exposed as the commodity it always was underneath the marketing and Po-Mo identity bricolage.

And yes, this happens with cookware, table saws, guitar picks, aftermarket fuel injectors, mechanical pencils, imported coffee, and organic burritos. Every single one of these has their blogs and their outspoken professionals. They moment you cut a corner on your pro-grade widget and still call pro, these actual pros will let the entire market know about it. And if the pros say it sucks, then prepare to see your pro-am aspirant customers disappear overnight. 

Related posts:

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  2. The iPad and the Death of Techno-fetishism
  3. Now They’re Giving Us Easy Ones
  4. Intel’s Museum of Nostalgia

14 Responses to What Will Be A Luxury in the Future? Everything Except Final Cut Pro.

  1. newchannelmedia says:

    Apart from a number of editing issues, this is actually a very well argued point. I have been seeing statements from those wannabe professionals that all who are complaining about the FCPX interface should, basically, just suck it up and get on with it. That is not the point.

    Having visited a major Hollywood studio, quite recently, I was shown their very impressive server room where approximately 80% of servers and associated equipment is given over to Final Cut Pro. The fact that FCPX cannot read older Final Cut Pro files is an immediate problem, given that this studio has massive archives of such content. Sure, they can continue to use the older version but, eventually, that will cease to be supported by Apple, hardware upgrades and demand will outgrow the older version’s capabilities, and the studio will need to find an alternative. So, this situation is not about some old fart of an editor sitting in a darkened room, refusing to upgrade. This is about professionals, often working for larger organizations, who face actual, logistical and operational problems as a result of Apple’s strange product direction.

    For all those who look at products such as iMovie or whatever the Windows equivalents are, and have a little ego kicking in, the idea of being able to afford an apparently “pro” product, with which to create their YouTube videos, is probably very enticing; but as this blog post states, if FCPX becomes a pro-labeled product that is not used by pros, it will not take long for the larger market to figure that out. As professionals migrate to Adobe Premiere Pro, or back to Avid, those wannabe pros will follow.

    Yes, Apple blew it. They might be able to claw back some credibility over time, and all this might settle down, but for a company that usually does an amazing job of marketing, whoever managed this launch should probably refresh his/her resume. The only other person who might benefit from a little resume polish is the Adobe Premiere Pro product marketing manager. With all the screenshots and prior knowledge of FCPX in plentiful circulation weeks prior to the launch, Adobe should have had an immediate and direct response ready to go from day one. Hit the market with an aggressive marketing campaign to win those disgruntled professionals, and semi-pros, who felt ignored and mistreated by Apple. What a coup. What a once in a [product] lifetime opportunity to win one over on Apple. So what was Adobe’s response?

    Nothing. Zero. Nada. Incredible, huh? I wrote to the Adobe CEO. I posted comments on various web sites and finally, two days ago, more than a week after the launch, there was some brief mention of Adobe’s PR team developing some sort of response. TOO LATE GUYS! You blew it too.

    • Guy Fox says:

      You give free advice to multi-million dollar corporations about how to their improve their marketing? You visited a major Hollywood studio and were stricken enough to feel pity? Either your resume is the most impressive of all, or you’re peculiarly generous with your emotions.

  2. sdenheyer says:

    Good article, and mostly true, except Apple didn’t make a mistake – that is, they are well aware of who is using their product and why, and the decision to abandon the pro market was a calculated one.

    You assertion that Oscar-winning editor us FCP tells me you’ve bought Apple’s propaganda on this – it’s not wrong, but it’s not entirely accurate. In film & TV, the vast majority of market share is held by Avid, not Apple. The thing is, holding onto what little share they do have in this market is extremely expensive, in terms of support and features development, because of the demands of serving the professional market. (Check out the specs on Avid’s Isis system and tell me an Apple exec would be interested in swallowing the development costs entailed in designing a competing system)

    So, yes, they’ll lose some share of the “prosumer” market, but maintaining the illusion that they were producing viable software for professional use is now far to expensive. In my view, the market segment that Apple are aggressively pursuing is the legions of wedding videographers, parents with camcorders and youtube creators – people who just want a tool and don’t care if that tools reflects lofty aspirations. And they’ll probably get it – they seem good at that sort of thing.

    • rapscallione says:

      In film & TV, the vast majority of market share is held by Avid, not Apple.

      Not quite. There are many post houses that are exclusively Final Cut Pro, all the major film schools teach FCP, Apple was most certainly gunning for Avid. Why do you think there’s such an uproar among professionals? Because a whole lot of them use it.

      people who just want a tool and don’t care if that tools reflects lofty aspirations.

      But they do. Go onto any amateur editing forum (or any creative forum, for that matter) and do a search for “it’s what the pros use.” Guaranteed you’ll find that phrase everywhere. It IS a huge thing, and Apple dropped the ball. They did the “we think that tape/OMF export/multi monitors are things of the past, so we’re getting rid of them.” Unfortunately, every single professional house uses these things, and they aren’t going to go away just because Apple said so.

      • sdenheyer says:

        From Wikipedia:

        According to a 2007 SCRI study, Final Cut made up 49% of the US professional editing market, with Avid at 22%.[1] A published survey in 2008 by the American Cinema Editors Guild placed their users at 21% FCP (and growing from previous surveys of this group), while all others were still on an Avid system of some kind.

        So, yes, Apple made huge inroads into the professional market by getting high-status editors to use their product. But note that Avid still dominates that segment of the market. The SCRI study numbers are probably due to the legions of freelance pros doing commercials and corporate videos, who are going go with FCP because of the low cost of entry.

        How long can Apple maintain the impression that you can achieve the same results with FCP @ $299 from the App store as you’d get from Media Composer @ $2300?

        Unfortunately, every single professional house uses these things, and they aren’t going to go away just because Apple said so

        No, they’ll just go to Apple’s competition. And I’m pretty sure Apple is happy to let them go, as long as they can sell bushels of FCP to people who don’t care about that stuff. (I think you mean multi-cam, not multi-monitors, BTW).

        • rapscallione says:

          Multi monitors is also a problem. You can’t send playback to an external screen. Multi cam is huge and missing but is apparently being added ASAP.

          I think the point being made here is that a lot of people DO care what the professionals use, and I agree with that. Sure, some thinking people can probably figure out what exactly it is they need, but others? They’re going to try and find “what the pros use” because they think that it’s the program itself that makes it pro.

    • Fifi says:

      “Apple’s first mistake was attempting to redesign the product for consumers. Apple’s high-end products have an implicit problem. Lots of people want them because they are advanced tools and devices that professionals use, but all those things can make it very complicated to use if you’re an amateur and don’t know what you’re doing.”

      I have to agree with sdenheyer about this, the propaganda outstripped the actual reality of “pro” or even “creative elite/cutting edge creative” regarding Apple’s products a long time ago. It really says it all that the industry where Apple established themselves as the “pro” tool and they’re the standard platform is advertising (graphic design, which is mainly used for advertising). While there are some brilliant graphic designers and art directors out there, most “creatives” in the advertising industry are anything but creative (the actual artists I know who also work in advertising to support their practice don’t tend to see their commercial work as being creative, often they use different names to avoid contaminating their creative work). This is where the illusion that Apple is a “pro creative elite” product comes from originally and they are still the standard platform in graphic design/advertising – so, yeah, when Apple had very little of the general consumer market they did work hard to maintain their niche pro market share but those days are long gone.

      Anyway, my main point is that Apple has never actually supported or cared about artists and they’ve always been more about advertising and trying to pretend that advertising is art and graphic designers are some sort of creative elite…it’s always been superficial. Apple makes products for people who want that superficial appearance of being a cultural elite – they don’t create tools for artists but tools that make people feel like they’re artists – they’re “creative” in a nice safe way where nobody actually gets deep or expresses messy feelings, never says anything meaningful nor disturbs the status quo. It’s custom built for narcissists really, which is why I predict that most “prosumers” won’t actually care that the new version of FCP is crap for people who actually do use it in creative work because of its functionality. My guess is that there’ll be enough “pros” and fanboys in Apple’s pocket to appease the prosumers who have already invested ego capital in the product and how it makes them look. Adherents of the Apple icult have too much to personally lose by dealing with reality, like members of any cult that are heavily invested in a belief.

      The megalomania and narcissism that’s a hallmark of Apple isn’t that surprising considering some of Steve Jobs rather irrational beliefs – dude’s got that nasty combo of new agey anti-science beliefs and techno-utopianism going on (so much so that he refused medical treatment for a form of treatable cancer so he could do the whole new agey thing before he was finally convinced to get a transplant – something that could have been avoided if he’d had early treatment, meaning someone else who needed that organ and wasn’t an anti-science retard millionare would have but may have died instead…what a self indulgent asshole).

  3. Absolute genius. You win.

  4. CubaLibre says:

    Take it a step further: what do you make of the existence of actual pros to the “prosumers”? Prosumers do not understand the pro features of their pro product, so they are reliant on signals from actual pros to determine whether or not the product is legitimately pro enough to support their chosen identity. But how do they willfully blind themselves to this process? It must be clear to them that this very reliance means they are not themselves pros – that they cannot themselves tell the difference between a pro product and an amateur one. So what do they think they are? Posers?

    • cliche says:

      “When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master”
      A single cliche can go a long way.

    • mattwan says:

      Cynical response: They believe that one day they will wake up knowing kung fu, and they want to have the requisite tools ready when they’re needed.

      Charitable response: They hope they’ll grow into their ambitions as they build up a skillset through trivial projects, and they don’t want to have to relearn the basics on a new product when they need more horsepower.

  5. Tiburon. says:

    We can see CCP doing this with EVE Online currently. A game built for and marketed towards the MMO player who wants a ruthless and cold universe to play in, currently being polluted by $70 monocles and the spectre of microtransactions. The hardcore players are mad, which means everyone else is mad, because they signed up to this game to be hardcore, dammit.