TV-PGAugust 10, 2000: The upcoming tell-all Steve Jobs biography has hit a few hurdles-- is our favorite iCEO calling in a few favors? Meanwhile, Apple introduces a new instant loan featuring online approval and truly frightening interest rates, and Paine Webber breaks the mold and sees AAPL's inner beauty...
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Publication Perils & Pitfalls (8/10/00)
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Does everybody remember that unauthorized biography of Steve we discussed a couple of weeks ago? Alan Deutschmann's The Second Coming of Steve Jobs isn't even scheduled to hit the shelves for another month, but it's already kicking up more than its share of dust. First there were the mouth-watering previews in the press, which revealed that the book delves into such engrossing material as our Once And Present King's former suicidal leanings and space-travel aspirations. Then came word that Steve himself had declined to be involved in the book's production in any way, and even referred to the bio as a "hatchet job"-- so you know it's going to be good. Stop pouring, because our drama cup is full.

Whoops... on second thought, our cup runneth over. According to MacCentral, the pre-release excitement continues, as the book falls prey to a couple of problems that "some experts are calling 'mysterious.'" (We haven't a clue as to who these "experts" on hatchet-job obstacles are, but we're willing to take their word for it.) For one thing, apparently some doubt has arisen regarding the book's cover photo, which shows a halo-sporting Steve sitting cross-legged and cradling an iMac. Random House reportedly bought the rights to use the image from Corbis Sygma, but unfortunately, it sounds like Corbis Sygma never secured the rights from the actual photographer, Moshe Brakha, who claims that the photo is being used without his permission. The result? Random House is telling stores and web sites to ditch any and all images they may have of the original cover photo, presumably while its graphic folks whip up a last-minute replacement cover from scratch. Consequently, the book's release might even be delayed slightly, thus causing us drama fiends no small amount of mental distress as we go a few extra days without our scheduled dose of Steve-dirt. (Anyone up for a class action suit?)

But wait, there's more... In addition to the photo disaster, Vanity Fair magazine has abruptly nixed its original plans to include tasty snippets from the bio in an upcoming issue. The official reason given is "lack of space," though since the magazine already paid for the right to publish the excerpts, one would think that scrounging a few empty column inches shouldn't be so tough. We mean, come on-- surely a mag whose latest issue features an in-depth article on Puff Daddy can find something less important than Steve to cut. Priorities, people!

What makes these tribulations so interesting, though, is the suggestion that Steve is somehow behind them all. The author himself is quoted as saying, "Steve Jobs does not like the book and doesn't want the book published. It really looks to me as it Steve Jobs is trying to cause problems for this book." Now, while we imagine that a well-developed sense of paranoia would be a positive boon to an author of a sleazy tell-all biography, we've been trying to figure out just how Steve would have pulled this off. Arranging Vanity Fair to "run out of space" might not be so tough; we'll know for sure if the October issue boasts a six-page Apple ad right where a book excerpt might fit nicely. But rigging the cover photo licensing debacle? That would take some serious skill-- and, come to think of it, a time machine. And if Steve had mastery over the fourth dimension, one would assume he wouldn't screw around by engineering Random House's use of an unlicensed photo; he'd probably just whack Deutschmann and prevent the book from ever being written at all. Still, points for subtlety, and all that.


 
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That's A Lot Of Pizzas (8/10/00)
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Well, lookee here: according to an Apple press release, the company is now offering "instant financing" on all of its products, which will allow "qualified customers" to sink deep into debt through the solvency-destroying miracle of monthly payments. "Big deal," we hear you say; "Apple's had that for years. I know because I remember that guy who turned into the giant fly yammering on about pizzas or something." Ahhh, but you are mistaken, Grasshopper. Yes, Apple did have a consumer loan that was touted by Jeff Goldblum in the infamous "less than three pizzas a month" commercial, but it wasn't exactly "instant" unless you happened to be in an actual brick-and-mortar store. If we recall correctly, online purchasers applying for the loan had to download an application, print it out, fill it in, and snail-mail it to the loan sharks for the privilege of being on the receiving end of the Usury Stick. The process often took up to two weeks to complete, which wasn't good for Apple, since that's plenty of time in which a customer might come to his or her senses and choose to pay the rent instead.

This new loan program, however, does seem to be truly "instant." Now, if you place an online order at the Apple Store, you can apply for the loan right over the Web and "receive immediate notification at the point of purchase" of whether or not they'll let you forfeit your three pizzas a month for an iMac DV+. So now it's easier than ever to impulse-upgrade to the latest Mac gear while simultaneously saddling yourself with an ever-increasing mound of crippling debt. Ain't technology grand?

Whoa, hey, buddy-- where ya goin'? Don't let that itchy clicker finger go nuts just yet; don't you even want to know what interest rate you'll be paying? Apparently Apple isn't too keen on telling you, either, since the press release makes no mention of the rate customers will pay to MBNA, the bank handling the loans. But if you visit Apple's loan page and read the teeny tiny print at the bottom of the screen, one sentence might leap out at you: "Your APR may be as high as 26.99%." Maybe it's just the overly-frugal nature of the AtAT staff, but 27% sounds like an insanely high interest rate for anything. Frankly, we're almost surprised that it's legal.

True, you'll probably only get the 26.99% rate if your credit report looks like you bled all over it and then ran it through a wood chipper, and if you're a hale and hearty consumer in good capitalist standing, you may even qualify for the 14.99% rate which appears to be the minimum. Still, our protective streak just wanted to warn you folks to make sure you find out exactly what you're getting into when you go buy your next Mac. If you need to spread the cost out over time, we imagine your bank, credit union, employer, or even one of your credit cards might be able to beat MBNA's rate, which could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Just explore your options before you "sign" anything, either on paper or online. (The preceding has been a public service announcement from AtAT.)


 
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AAPL Upgraded To "Cute" (8/10/00)
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Okay, so Apple's stock isn't quite the runaway success story it was five months ago. Back then, analysts were tripping all over each other to upgrade their ratings on AAPL, as the price kept creeping skyward beyond all reasonable hopes. These days, though, the stock is hovering at the $50 mark, just about two-thirds of its all-time high. That's still about seven or eight times its low point back in 1997, and almost twice what it was a year ago, but it's not stunning Wall Street the way it used to.

Personally, we blame the analysts and their excessively dull rating system. "Sell." "Buy." "Hold." "Neutral." "Market perform." Now, is that any way to drum up interest in the stock market? That's why we were tickled pink to find a Reuters article reporting AAPL's latest upgrade: Paine Webber has "raised its rating on shares of Apple Computer Inc. to attractive." Attractive! Now we're cookin'; that's far more appealing than the sterile "buy." Granted, it's still rather clinical and cold, but it's a step in the right direction.

Hopefully other analysts will follow suit, and take the trend even further. We want to see AAPL rated as "spiffy." Or "radiant." Or even "sexy." If the idea catches on, perhaps in a few months we'll see Lehmann Brothers upgrade AAPL to "enchanting," while Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse First Boston will both opt for "gorgeous." The danger, of course, is that someone like A.G. Edwards and Sons will lose the faith and downgrade AAPL to "a face for radio" and the sell-off will begin...


 
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