The Apple Business Model: Crowdsourcing Global Production

Lecture by Debra Howcroft, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

Time: Tuesday November 6th, 14.15 – 16.15
Place: Auditorium 3, IT University of Copenhagen, Rued Langgaardsvej 7

Following a chequered business history, Apple has emerged as a brilliant financial success, overtaking Microsoft as the leading digital giant. Cool design and careful marketing sits alongside a tightly controlled digital ecosystem to create an innovative mass-market product range that has captured the consumer imagination. The profitability is boosted by outsourced long chain supply with assembly by Foxconn in low wage China and by rents on apps by a global base of software developers. While labour is often neglected in studies of long global value chains, in the case of Apple there have been astonishing levels of publicity regarding exploitative manufacturing practices. However, one aspect frequently overlooked is that of crowdsourcing the ‘high end’ providers of digital content, that is, the software professionals that create and develop apps for the App Store.
The aim of this talk is to analyse the labour dimension of high-tech provision in Apple’s business model. Global Production Network analysis (GPN) will be used as an organising framework to critically examine highly complex network structures and direct attention to the three areas of value, power and embeddedness. Reporting on fieldwork with Apple developers in Sweden, the UK and the US, conclusions will be drawn as to why crowdsourcing has proved integral to the success of Apple’s business model and ongoing expansion.

Debra Howcroft is Professor of Technology and Organisation at Manchester Business School and a member of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). Broadly, her research interests are concerned with the drivers and consequences of socioeconomic restructuring in a global context. She is Editor of New Technology, Work and Employment and is a member of the editorial boards of Information Systems Journal, IT & People, Journal of Information Technology, Journal of Strategic Information Systems, and the Qualitative Review of Accounting and Management. She is a Visiting Professor at Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden.