Crushed in the Apple Press

If you had a hankering to be surrounded by the teeming masses last weekend, a good place to be just might have been your local Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Store. I developed this theory from personal experience.

Many of my friends know that I'm a lifelong Mac user -- and that I had been using a first-generation iMac for so long as to have developed a bit of a martyr complex about it (as well as excuse myself from a variety of activities I just couldn't perform on my old-school machine). Anyway, last weekend I finally took the plunge and went out shopping for a brand-new iBook. Apparently lots of people had the same idea in mind, at least in terms of hitting the Apple Store.

Just last week, I wrote about Apple's new products and pricing. I vacillated on a few theories as to the strategy of the new pricing -- including the possibility that maybe rivals were finally beginning to make Apple a little nervous (the very concept made a few readers irate), as well as the idea that a variety of price points will help the iPod achieve the ubiquity it desires by enabling addictions for less cash, one of the best hooks around, especially for catching 'em young.

Having seen the utter mayhem in the store Saturday -- indeed, I considered faking a seizure in order to steal one of the busy salespeople from other customers -- I would probably swing toward the latter. After having plied my sales guy (luckily, no underhanded scheming was necessary; I merely seized the opportunity when I noticed he had just emerged from the back room, miraculously without an entourage of customers) with computer-related questions, I asked him whether all the people were buying, or whether most of them were just looking.

He replied that they were buying. He likened it to a montage in a movie that shows a really popular product -- only it's real. He also said that the crowd in the Tysons Corner, Va., store was nothing compared to that which he had seen working in the SoHo store in New York. "People love their music," he said.

Indeed. That's been the secret that Apple's keyed into over the course of the last couple years with its iPod. As I stood at the register getting checked out, I watched as others snapped up iPods and iPod Minis.

It's pretty certain that the iPod craze continues unabated; how much of last weekend's mayhem had to do with new price points is an unknown, although it seems a likely theory that tax refund spending might have also had a catalytic effect on the feeding frenzy. And I saw people playing with the floor models of computers, although how many of them were actually interested buyers was unclear.

As I said last week, whether the bona fide iPod craze -- and its possibilities for sales and earnings growth from here, as well as elevating other Apple products -- is already priced into the stock is a definite concern for those looking at buying shares of Apple now. Most "hot" story stocks can really burn investors when too much euphoria and too little research inflate prices.

Regardless, though, it's clear that yes, people love their music, and for the time being, the iPod has become synonymous for wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of Apple. Once she got her iPod Shuffle loaded up, she definitely wondered whether it was all over and she had finally, officially become one of Steve Jobs' minions.


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