Mac UK

Interview with MacUser's Ian Betteridge

Dirk Pilat - 2002.02.26

After complaining about everything related to Apple in the UK, I thought it was time to have a word with one of the people who actually know what they're talking about, to tell me what really is happening with Apple in the UK these days.

So I emailed the UK's best Macmag's ( new editor, Ian Betteridge, and asked him for an interview. To my delight he said yes, and a week later he picked me up from his incredibly stylish office building and gave me an audience in one of the pubs around the corner.

An incredibly amiable person with a wicked humour, Betteridge graduated in philosophy from university before working with Apple UK and finally becoming first deputy-editor and then editor of MacUser.

DP: Thanks for finding the time for us! I have been ranting and raving in Low End Mac over the last 12 months over the state of Apple retail in the UK and that the only place in the UK were you actually have more than one apple retailer seems to be Tottenham Court Road in London. Do you see any changes happening there?

IB: I don't see anything changing over night. It all depends on what strategies Apple has at the moment. I think they're quite happy the way things develop at the moment, especially for the professional users, who either order via mailorder - because they know what they want - or who go to one particular dealer which they know well. For consumers it's a different story, because what Apple wants to do is get the machines to the consumers where they then say "wow, this thing is incredible". So at the moment, there's PC World...

DP: ...which is abysmal

IB: I wouldn't go as far as saying it's abysmal, but it's not good or great.

DP: When was the last time you actually went there and tried to buy a machine?

IB: I went to PC World about two weekends ago, and it was [pauses and thinks] oookay - as long as you don't talk to the staff too much.

DP: Yeah, but nobody is going to encourage you to buy the things.

IB : That's the big problem for Apple, as Apple train PC World staff, but six months later they're all gone. PC World has such a high turnover in employees, which is the same problem for all high-street retailers: to hold on to qualified staff. It's just a very casualized workforce, which makes it even more difficult for us. But I think in a way it is going to get easier for Apple, because they can now set up machines which sell themselves so well: You look at the new iMac or the new iBook and go: "Wow, that's something I want to play with, touch and know more about!", and I think that goes for staff as well as for customers, so there will be staff around at PC World which knows something about the new Imac, and that will be self-perpetuating.

DP: But most Apple sales in the UK are still via mailorder?

IB: ...and I don't think that will change, because mailorder people know how to sell Macs.

DP: ...but only to customers who are already Mac users and buy MacUser and Macworld.

IB: Yes, but I think that if you have a Mac on the cover on a magazine now, people will pick that magazine up and look at it. We had a stand on the Apple OS X Roadshow as Mediapartners, selling subscriptions, and were surprised about the number of people who were not regular Mac users, and it's surprising if you think about it: It's a show about OS X which you would think appeals by and large to regular Mac users, but the breadth of people who've been there was incredible. So, I think that Apple will benefit from the curiosity of the public, and this will benefit their retail. What would the other options be? Open Apple Stores?

DP: Is this going to happen in London?

IB: I don't think it's going to happen this year, but it might happen in the long term.

DP: But they have been quite successful, haven't they?

IB: They have been very successful in getting "eyeballs". I am not sure how many percent of visitors are actually buying anything, but in a sense, that's not really important: You want to draw people in and say: "Hey, the Mac is here! Look at it! Play with it. Have fun with it." To do that in the UK would be much more difficult: First of all it would hurt a lot of dealers badly, especially the smaller ones, who do exactly what Apple really needs: Keep Applesales going.

DP: ...but Apple is giving them a rough deal by allowing them very tight margins

IB: The margins are certainly not good enough for high quality service, but that's a problem throughout the computer industry, not just Apple's. It's an eternal tradeoff: On the one hand, the company itsself wants to make as much money as possible, on the other hand, they need good dealers and balancing the margins is really difficult. Probably the most difficult thing that Apple UK has to do.

DP: Is Apple's share in the UK Market big enough to sustain three Apple magazines?

IB: It seems to work so far. First of all, everyone in IT publishing has lost readers, certainly over the last year. It's very much been affected by the recession. We have not suffered that much last year, because we have a big base of subscribers who will carry on buying our magazine. We have been suffering a bit more this year, as overall the market is down.

DP: But MacUser is not suffering from loss of ad revenue, as you are selling ads pretty well

IB: It is tougher, because in the current environment every company is having to justify what they are spending on advertising, so it's a much more competitive market than 3-4 years ago when every company was flooding the market with advertisements. It is harder now, but I would be very surprised if any of the UK-Mac mags actually tank.

DP: What I always like about MacUser is its cutting edge format and with "20/20" its window into contemporary British art and design. Are you using different designs for every issue?

IB: We have one basic template, but we have a lot of freedom and latitude within that. We did a redesign at the start of last year - god, it feels like it's just two weeks ago - and part of the reason for doing that was to give us as much flexibility as possible, but within that template. If you're doing a fortnightly magazine, the majority of the layout has to be fairly regimented, as it would become a nightmare if you would have to layout every page differently. So what we did was work out a design that would give us flexibility in how we do news, reviews and most importantly features. And that has overall been a big success for us. We won a design award last year for our infamous "naked man" cover,

DP: ....which was pretty cool

IB: ....especially if you saw the whole package,

DP: ...the picture in front of the private jet...

IB: Oh, you noticed that? How many people noticed didn't notice the jet? And the ones who did thought it wasn't a real, but it was definetely a real jet.

DP: Didn't you get some complaints about nudity?

IB: Yeah, but they were all men.

DP: ...probably "Sun" and "Daily Star" readers. LEM

Continued in Interview with MacUser's Ian Betteridge, part 2.

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