After Amy Winehouse died in July 2011, her album "Back to Black" rose to number one on the iTunes charts, from a previous position of "Unranked"; ditto for Michael Jackson, whose greatest hits collection sales the day of his death were 700 times higher than the day before. Kurt Cobain's death led to a 170 percent surge in all three of Nirvana's albums in 1994; similar surges occurred after the deaths of John Lennon, The Notorious B.I.G. and Alex Chilton of Big Star. Could Steve Jobs' unexpected death on Wednesday evening lead to a similar surge in Apple sales in the coming days and weeks, as pilgrims and admirers seek a tangible way to honor a fallen icon?
First, another question (and not to go all unanswerably-philosophical Terrence Malick on you, but): Why do we become newly attached to the items of the recently deceased? What is the meaning of this practice? Is it as a form of tribute, an attempt to pay them back or honor them somehow? Is it because it makes us feel closer to them, helps us to remember and celebrate their lives and their accomplishments, to animate them in their peak condition one final time? Is it out of an effort to feel, somehow, what they may have been thinking so close to the mysterious unknown, that somehow within their output there is encoded the thoughts of a man or woman who is closer to the brink of death?
"A lot of people didn't know who Steve Jobs was," a local high schooler named Daisy tells me outside the Apple store in New York's trendy SoHo neighborhood. It is a cool October afternoon, and we are standing in front of one of the many makeshift shrines to the recently-deceased Apple CEO that have popped up around the world, which consist mainly of stacks of flower bouquets, candles, handwritten notes and, of course, apples.
"Now more people are gonna get Apple stuff," she says, her boyfriend John Paul nodding in agreement. "People are learning about him, what he did. Everyone I know wants to get it [an Apple product]."
If the numbers are correct, everyone Daisy knew already wanted to get Apple products: The iPhone and the iPad are two of the most envied tech gadgets available today.
But what young Daisy suggested -- that a newfound and revised appreciation of Steve Jobs the innovator could lead to a spike in the sentimental purchase of all things Apple -- just may be true. Jobs was a man whose life and work were inextricably linked to the supremacy of the final product, and Steve Jobs, as a man and salesman, is immediately associable with his industry-shaking and industry-forming gadgets: How can one distance or separate Jobs from the iPods, iPads, iPhones and MacBook Airs that he created, pitched and exhibited to the world for the first time?
Steve Jobs was a rock star, and now there is at least the question of whether his greatest hits will see sales spikes as befits an iconic bandleader who died too young. When Michael Jackson passed on, I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, writing and teaching English. Though I was never an active MJ fan, I found myself, totally unawares, playing "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" on a loop, over and over, on my walks to and from school and in between classes. It was never a song I particularly connected with, and yet for some reason, from the moment I'd heard about his passing, I had become transfixed, dancing to it through the hallways of Chiang Mai University and blasting it in my apartment. Michael Jackson's death, and all of the media attention surrounding it, had subconsciously led me to reevaluate his music.
Does the same kind of strange, hypnotic pull and new appreciation also apply to tech stars?
"It's hard to predict what the bump might be," said Eric Chan. Chan is president of Mobileslate, a management consulting firm for mobile and wireless. "For someone to buy even the whole album for Amy Winehouse is nominal; for someone to potentially buy two computers may be a little bit harder to stomach especially given where the economy is right now."
"Where I think there may be a bump is in the content side, for example in the iTunes store and possibly even like an iPod because of the price points," he added.
Daisy, like most everyone else who had come to the Apple store that Thursday afternoon, had arrived not to honor the deceased founder and CEO, nor to leave flowers or candles or fruit for the man, but rather to shop: Her boyfriend John Paul had an iPhone 4 and wanted to see if it was eligible to be upgraded to the 4S. Though he was disappointed there was no iPhone 5, he still reckons that the iPhone 4S is a worthy enough successor that warrants him spending $200.
"In the next few weeks, I think people are gonna buy Apple products because he's gone," a young woman named Vanessa from Sweden told me. "And because they're Apple products. Especially with the prices going down, and the new iPhone coming out."
Here is the dichotomy: Apple could have on its hands both a surge in sales because of a hotly-anticipated new item AND a form of tribute buying -- a renewed, refocused interest in its product line due to the passing of its iconic leader. The iPhone 4 is already the best-selling phone in the world; the iPhone 4S -- which an urban legend has standing for "iPhone 4 Steve" -- could bury that device.
"There are gonna be some people who want to own a piece of the legend, sure," said another NYC Apple store-goer, a local artist named Alexander Shapiro who is a self-professod Mac lover. "Different people are motivated by different things."
And what about him -- what brought him to the Apple store with his camera to take pictures of the makeshift shrine? Has Jobs' passing influenced him in any way?
"I was gonna buy the 4S anyway," he said.
A continued dedication to a company's products is, after all, a tribute of its own.