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iPod’s sincerest form of flattery appears

Marketplace Staff Sep 22, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: In a way, it’s a backhanded capitalist compliment. When you make a product that’s so successful it’s worth ripping off. Louis Vuitton bags. Rolex watches. And now the iPod. Apple’s sold almost 60 million of them in the six years they’ve been on the market. Not cheap, though. About 350 bucks for the new video models. So it was just a matter of time until knock-offs started filtering into the market. Fakes have been spotted in Asia, Europe and now in North America. Jordana Gustafson reports.

JORDANA GUSTAFSON: They arrived in Mexico City at the end of August — sleek, black devices, mounted on fluorescent cardboard, and shrink-wrapped in plastic. Just below the display screen, it says “iPod.” And on the back? Made in China.

The fake iPods quickly migrated to markets outside the capital. At the pirated goods market in Puebla, two hours southeast of Mexico City, vendor Jose Perez sells both original and pirated devices. He says consumers aren’t yet sold on the iPod’s copy.

JOSE PEREZ [interpreter]: Right now, I sell more originals than copies. The pirated one, they don’t ask for. They ask more for the original.

Perez says he’s sold just about two replicas per week, even though the $130 price tag is about a third the cost of the real iPod. Apple has declined to comment, but economist Sylvia Guillermo says that if the counterfeit devices haven’t upset Apple yet, they’re bound to.

SYLVIA GUILLERMO: Every time a pirate product appears, it bothers the legal one.

If the knockoff proves reliable, she says, it could pose a challenge to sales of the real iPod in Mexico — especially if shopping habits in Mexico City serve as any sort of microcosm for the rest of the country.

The federal consumer protection agency here says that 70 percent of residents in the country’s capital buy pirated products. Most Mexicans, it seems, take the attitude Ana Silva has — she’s waiting to hear from her friends how well the fake works before she forks over the $130.

ANA SILVA: Maybe if it’s going to break in a minute, no. But if it’s going to work, yes, why not?

Silva says she’d have to save up for a long time to buy the original iPod, but the pirated one is something she can more easily afford.

SILVA: I’m sorry about the iPod people, but they are rich and I am poor!

There are no sales statistics available for Mexico, but independent research firms say Apple currently holds 26 percent of the global MP3 market and more than 75 percent of the U.S. market.

JIM DALRYMPLE: It’s just . . . It’s become this iconic device that everybody has to have, and everybody wants.

MacWorld.com News Director Jim Dalrymple doesn’t think consumers will go for the ersatz iPod, nor does he think any competitor, legal or not, is going to break Apple’s stronghold on the market. Not even Microsoft’s Zune, which is expected to be released in time for this year’s holiday season.

DALRYMPLE: I know from my own experience with my own kids; they don’t want an MP3 player, they want an iPod. And nothing else will do.

Whether or not a real-looking iPod will do for U.S. consumers remains to be seen. Aside from scattered complaints from eBay customers, the iPod’s doppelganger has not yet been reported in the U.S.

In Puebla, Mexico, I’m Jordana Gustafson, for Marketplace.

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