What Do the iPhone and Jonathan Franzen Have in Common?

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Or, put another way:

What does WalMart have in common with Oprah Winfrey?

The writer Jonathan Franzen is best known for his 2001 novel The Corrections. He carries a very strong reputation among the high-end literary set, and is as opinionated about said set (in the affirmative) as he is scornful of low-end culture.

This same bifurcation can be seen in the reaction to his work. On Amazon.com, The Corrections has garnered 1,013 customer reviews, a very large number, with an average rating of three stars. That’s right down the middle between the lowest possible rating (one) and the highest (five). Consider the headlines of two consecutive recent entries: a five-star review titled “A Modern Classic” and a one-star review titled “A seemingly unending stream of word vomit.”

Soon after The Corrections was published, Oprah Winfrey chose it as her Book Club selection. Franzen did what I believe no author has ever done: turned her down. He seemed to believe that Oprah’s imprimatur was declasse, that it would harm his literary reputation. This decision was made easier by the fact that the book was already selling very, very well.

I thought of this dust-up when I read that Apple has plans to sell its iPhone in WalMart. For $99. This makes WalMart only the second mass-market retailer (after Best Buy) to sell the iPhone.

It is hard to think of a modern product with an image that runs more counter to a modern retailer’s image than the iPhone to WalMart. I am sure that Apple gave a lot of consideration to the risk of taking its high-end product into the most mainstream store that’s ever existed. What kind of psychic damage might this do to the existing high-end users? If the iPhone sells well in WalMart, does the cool sheen that has been built up over countless media impressions start to seem a bit duller? And even if so, what sort of strategic move — what sort of higher-end iPhone, that is — might Apple be preparing in order to let its high-end faithful maintain their cool-sheen advantage?

For what it’s worth, Oprah Winfrey has had a much better past few years than Jonathan Franzen, at least commercially speaking. But that was plainly not the level that Franzen cared about. Apple, meanwhile, needs to care. It’s a publicly traded company.

It’s also interesting to note that WalMart won’t start selling the iPhone until perhaps the day before Christmas. This might seem like a gigantic lost opportunity — or perhaps a way to not overemphasize the new relationship when the lights are the brightest.

On the other hand, with way too many people giving way too many gift cards for Christmas, the WalMart iPhone is perfectly positioned to capture the after-Christmas shopping binge.


What do the iPhone and Franzen have in common?

Both are fingers-on-the-chalkboard, intolerably pretentious. Particularly Franzen - he smartly made his book seem smart by making it seem exclusive. But this is a cheap salesman's trick. The actual book is, as your reviewer put it, word vomit.

And I'm a card-carrying member of the literary elite - almost everyone I know feels the same way. It's right up there with Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in the running for "most pretentious, self-indulgent novel of this generation".


I'm just trying to picture the meeting between Apple's and Walmart's execs to has this deal out. Did the black turtleneck crew descend upon Bentonville? I can picture them shaking their Urban Spoons, futilely searching for a Pan-Asian, Sushi-Inspired, Brazilian steakhouse in Arkansas...


Have to point this out... there is no confirmation that Apple is actually going to offer a 4-gig, $99 iPhone at Walmart. The move would actually come as a suprise if it did happen, since Apple has always branded its products as a more upscale, higher-end items.

Andrew M

I think selling the iPhone at Wal-Mart will have the same effect on high-end Apple customers that selling the iPod has: None.


I don't see a disconnect here. Apple makes consumer products. It has marketed those products as "super easy to use." What better way to prove that than by placing it in the biggest-of-the-big-box, who moves more consumer goods than anyone else?


If you accept the "wisdom" that Apple is simply a pretentious high end brand, yeah, then they and Franzen have a lot in common.

However, if you remove those blinders, you will recognize that Apple is a hardware company with industrial design unmatched by any other, logistical control exceeded only by Walmart, and has visionaries seen only in Google. Which is why its got such a brand reputation despite selling a $40 product in its ipod shuffle, and nearly everyone walking around with those white earbuds. Apple is not cool because it makes good ads. Apple is cool because it makes good, easy to use products. It has made high end technology accessible to regular users like none other (for an example, compare reviews of the Blackberry Storm and the iphone).

Leland Witter

An interesting (maybe) thing about the Oprah / Franzen fracas is that whenever I see Jonathan Franzen's name in print, I immediately think, "oh that's the guy that got Oprah in a snit about fabricating facts."

Of course that's actually James Frey, but since my only Oprah-related information comes from headlines and sound-bites, my brain has intertwined the names and situations.

I also seem to confuse Jack Black (actor) with Jack White (singer), so perhaps I need to get my wiring looked at.


That's pretty sweet: iphones for 99 dollars in Walmarts around the world. Dam, I want one now. Its incredible how cheap it is. Anyone can save up and buy a 100 dollar phone that is located in the best convenience stores. This cheap price reminds me of the test I took today at AP Economics class. The total average cost to produce an iphone will decrease because apple would mass produce, and the more a company produces, the cheaper their products can be (Until diseconomies of scales bump in).

Adam Keith

Wal-Mart already sells IPods. What is to stop them from selling the IPhone?


Just what Wal-Mart needs, another excuse for a stampede.


Apple doesn't care about the cost of the phone so much as they care about the 2 year contract that you must sign up for. The goal with Walmart seems to be get as many iPhones out into the wild as possible in order to soak up the AT&T royalties also also possible new iTunes Store purchases for applications. I will be surprised if this deal brings an increase to how many iphones are sold as the plans start at about $50 per month.


I think it's brilliant. As far as I'm concerned, people buy Apple products for one reason: they're better! The aesthetic is an after-thought, if anything at all.

Now, more people will have access (at the lower price, and at a store that is more accessible than the apple store) and Apple will be able to tap into a market that it otherwise might be missing (maybe by some fault of its own).

Good for Apple and for everyone that might now be able to afford it w/ the lower price.

Cautionary note to Wal-Mart shoppers: beware AT&T!


Wal-Mart already sells all the iPod models. (I bought mine there.) What could possibly be wrong with selling iPhones there too? I just can't see that this is such a big deal. It's just an extension of business that the two companies -- Wal-Mart and Apple -- already do together.


Thank God I can preserve my personal cool-sheen advantage with an aluminum-case 1st Gen iPhone that screams to the world:

"Yes, I did pay $500 bucks for this thing, thank you for asking! And no, it does not have the GPS!"


rumor rumor rumor

unsubstantiated rumor.

widely reported rumor.

rumor rumor rumor.


More seriously,

Apple is very careful with product annoucements and introductions. They milk the free media for all it is worth.

So, Apple would definitely accept a well-crafted/staged Oprah endorsement. It's not something that is easy to get, it garnders a ton publicity and it leads to huge sales.

It might be pretty easy to get on Wal*Mart shelves, but the annoucement of a $99 iPhone in every Wal*Mart would generate a huge amount of publicy and an gargantuan amount of sales. But not the day before Christmas.

Apple is better than that about its timing. Heck, the recently accounced that there would be no new product accouncements before Christmas -- so people would not wait for products that didn't exist. Pixar tries to launch its movies in the summer, so that the DVDs can come out in time for Christmas presents. Steve Jobs has his people think carefully about this stuff.

Is this rumor true? Well, if Apple were to launch a $99 iPhone, and to sell it through Wal*Mart, when would it do so? This is not a company that annouces/launches things simply because they are ready. The schedules are set to so the the timing of the annoucements work for maximum effect. Products and/or features have been dropped, simply because they weren't ready in time -- or so I hear.

So, is this rumor true? Certainly not the part about the day before Christmas. Certainly anything about before Christmas. But could Steve Jobs annouce this is January, at Macworld Expo? That is actually possible.



The $99 iPhone comes with a $90-a-month (or more) phone plan, plus activation, etc. I don't see how this is Wal-mart's target consumer - but as long as the quality remains the same or better, then it's fine by me. It seem like it's AT&T getting the best deal here.


"And I'm a card-carrying member of the literary elite - almost everyone I know feels the same way. It's . . . in the running for "most pretentious, self-indulgent novel of this generation."

The self-proclaimed literary elite finds this book pretentious. Help me out here - I'm not from Dartmouth so I can't be expected to understand. Is this satire or irony?


I had pretty much the same reaction to 'The Corrections' as I did to 'The DaVinci Code'. They both seem to be excellent indicators that anyone gushing about them is easily impressed.


I'm afraid you are stereotyping Mac fans a little to much here. The idea that they would be disgusted with their iPhones becuase someone can buy it at Walmart is near ridiculous. I can't see more than a couple hundred who would turn their backs on the products they love because people can walk into a different store than them and buy the same thing. Thats not to say their aren't crazy Mac fans out their, just not that crazy.

Besides, iPods have been selling in Walmarts for years and they haven't exactly become less popular.