Elon Musk’s misguided and, latterly, crazed acquisition of Twitter for $44bn (a fair amount of it borrowed) hasn’t brought much benefit to anyone. Musk himself as well as the thousands of Twitter employees sacked and those remaining in fear of their jobs.
One might debate the importance of Twitter in the overall scheme of things but his latest spat with advertisers – not unreasonably heading for the hills – has served to cast an uncomfortable spotlight on Apple, a big advertiser on Twitter with about $48m (4% of or so of Twitter revenues) and a key gatekeeper to the platform via the App Store.
Musk is now claiming that Apple has threatened to delist Twitter in a row involving both brand safety concerns and the hefty commission Apple charges on App sales – between 15 and 30% mostly. The latter is one of the key reasons Apple revenues keep rising exponentially whatever happens in the rest of the world.
Apple’s generous commission has been the subject of various legal actions over the years (there’s at least one on now) but it’s always got away with it, partly because it wisely keeps its head down when controversy emerges. That’s not so easy with mad Musk in the frame.
Musk himself is learning the hard way (at least we hope he is) that being a brilliant tech entrepreneur doesn’t make you an expert on ethics or politics, although that hasn’t stopped a range of over-mighty US businessmen thinking they are – from Henry Ford and the oil barons onwards.
He may be learning that combining free speech in the media (even his version of it) requires a delicate balance between editorial interests and those of advertisers. Advertisers have, historically, been wary about interfering although the immediate and occasionally dramatic effect of social media is changing some of that, often at the behest of jumpy media agencies. Apple, in withdrawing its advertising, is being advised by Omnicom Media Group.
So there are lots of issues here that involve more than Twitter and Musk’s mad media ego trip. Apple’s pivotal place in the modern business world (it’s now the world’s biggest company by value) is one of them.