Some people say Macs are too expensive. Some say they aren’t. I say they’ve got it all wrong. Read on to understand how I came to this conclusion.
It is a touchy subject. If you want to stirr things up, write an article titled “Macs are (not) too expensive” and you’re sure to get a lot of comments, a lot of hits. Basically, there are three camps in this discussion. The first camp says that Macs are too expensive, the second one says they aren’t, and the third group consists of people that just don’t care. Leaving the last one out of this story, I’ll focus on the first two camps.
Expensiveness is a very complicated term. Somehow, the people in the first two camps think that expensiveness (or it’s counterpart, cheapness) is a universally applicable term, equal among all humans, a fact that one can set in stone. Like, ice is slippery. Fire is hot. Fish can swim. You know.
This is of course complete nonsense. Whether something is expensive or not is a completely subjective matter, influenced by many, many variables. In this story, I will concentrate on two of those variables. These two, perceived value of goods and income, are (arguably, however) the two most important factors that control whether an item is perceived as ‘expensive’ or ‘cheap’.
Perceived value of goods
People buy things, because they perceive those things as ‘valuable’. The more valuable something is to people, the more money they will be willing to spend on it. As you can clearly understand, an item’s value is completely subjective. To me, an Aston Martin DB9 is well worth its whopping 202 000 Euros. I appreciate its timeless design, powerful engine, the craftsmanship (Aston Martins are built by hand), the brand’s heritage, the whole nine yards. To someone else however, all that means jack. That someone just sees a car, nothing more, nothing less, and they will call me crazy for being willing to spend all that money on it. This is applicable to almost everything. I don’t see the use in spending money on musical instruments; as I can’t play them, they are valueless to me. To a musician however, they are invaluable, and he’ll be willing to spend a lot of money on it.
The same applies to the Macintosh. I bought my Macs because I appreciate the design, the architecture, and above all, the operating system. I am willing to spend more on a Mac than on an x86 computer. So to me, a Mac is not expensive. Any added costs there might be in a Mac over a standard x86 are completely justified by my personal opinion about the superiority of the machine over the x86. Just like the musician and his instruments.
However, this of course does not go for everyone. Not everyone sees any value in the Mac platform that justifies spending any (if any) extra costs. Good case design is not patented by Apple. Most people don’t care whether or not the PPC architecture is better (leaving the upcoming switch out of the story). Same goes for the operating system. I may find Mac OS easier to use than it’s competitors, but that’s just an opinion. It means nothing, at least not to anyone else but me. So, if we have someone who finds looks unimportant, does not care about architectures, and is happy with using either Windows or Linux– than that person has no personal justification of spending the extra cash for a Mac.
Hence, for this person, a Mac is expensive.
This person will be more than satisfied with his no-name box; it runs Windows (or to a lesser extent, Linux) just fine, he can browse, email, play games, it does all what most people want from a computer. Yet, computers like these are available at much lower prices than Macs. With monitors, that is.
My perceived value of a Macintosh is much higher than that of the person I just described (let’s name him Bob, for the sake of clarity). Therefor, I am willing to spend more money on it, and as a result, I find it not expensive. Bob, however, when we present him with a Mac (any Mac, Mini + screen/keyboard/mouse, iMac G5, PowerMac) and a no-name x86, the latter available at much lower pricing, sees two computers that let him do the same things, but the x86 at a much lower price. Bob will choose the cheapest one, and will deem the Mac expensive.
An argument brought forth by people who say Macs are not expensive is that Macs come loaded with many interesting software titles, like iPhoto and iMovie, and that these software titles make the Mac prices go up– but, you’re getting something in return. This, again, depends completely on if a customer sees any value in that software. I personally sure do– but I know my parents wouldn’t care about it at all; Windows lets them see and retouch digital photos too, and they don’t have a digital videocamera so they can edit digital home videos. So, to them, iLife means nothing. To them, iLife is no justification for spending more cash on the Mac. The same applies to Bob, who doesn’t have a digital camcorder either. And there are enough iPhoto equivalents for Windows and Linux.
The perceived value is not all that matters. As I explained, I really find the DB9 worth its hefty price tag. Yet, I do not own one (sadly enough). Why?
I don’t make enough money to buy one. Really, I don’t (damn it).
Income is the one variable that determines whether or not something is perceived as expensive. I may find the DB9 worth 202 000 Euros, but seeing I don’t make enough money to buy one, the DB9 is still expensive to me. Income is a limiting factor.
If I had the money, I’d buy a PowerMac G5. I’m sure many others out there would too. If Bob earns close to minimum wage, he might want that Mac really badly, but he won’t be able to buy it. I might explain to Bob all the benefits I found in using Macintosh, but if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy one, he will still deem the Mac expensive.
Bob could make enough money to theoretically buy one. However, he can only buy one if he starts spending less on other important expenditures (going out, clothing, music albums, you know). If Bob deems those other expenditures more important, more valueable, than the Mac; then he’ll still say that he finds the Mac expensive.
I hope all of you now understand that something’s expensiveness or cheapness is not a fact. It’s a personal opinion, influenced by many variables, but especially the ones I mentioned in this article. This story was about the Mac, but you could basically substitute it with any other item.
So, from now on, when you are participating in an online forum, or our comment’s section, think about how personal the perception of price is. It is not set in stone. It is not a fact.
It all ‘depends’.
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