What Steve Jobs Thought About Digital Books

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By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World

In 2008, Steve Jobs reportedly said the book business was “unsalvageable.” Two years later, Jobs unveiled his latest world-beating device – the iPad, a product that many major publishers hoped would help them grow their e-book business.

Today, less than a month after the death of Apple’s founder and long-time CEO, Simon & Schuster released the first of what should be many Steve Jobs biographies. Titled simply “Steve Jobs” and penned by Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy center, the biography is being reviewed as wide-ranging and full of juicy tidbits – both positive and negative – about Jobs’s life and work.

But what did the man who once pronounced the trade dead really think about e-books?

In September 2009, before the launch of the iPad, in an interview with David Pogue of the New York Times, Jobs said that Apple doesn’t see e-books as a “big market” and speculated that the Kindle wasn’t selling well. He also implied that the e-reader was a losing bet as a device since multi-function devices would be more popular and also serve as e-readers.

At the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in June 2010, one of the first announcements Jobs made was that the iPad’s two million users had already downloaded five million books on the two-month-old device. The timing (early in his keynote address) and the nature of the announcement signaled the importance that Jobs put on e-books.The Apple e-book store, iBooks, was selling 22% of all e-books among publishers offering their titles through the channel at the time, he also said.

When Jobs unveiled the iPad 2 earlier this year, looking as gaunt as ever, a rash of new product features for the device took center stage, but publishers still took notice at Jobs’s iBooks announcement: more than 100 million e-books downloaded from more than 2,500 publishers. Jobs also announced that Random House would join the iBooks family after the resolution of a pricing disagreement.

Outside of his statements about e-books, Jobs’s impact on digital publishing will be felt for years to come. His “agency-pricing,” where publishers set their own prices and share the revenues with Apple, challenged the Amazon model, which mirrors retail, except the price of virtually every book is $9.99, much to the chagrin of publishers. And the iPad has led the charge of e-readers away from e-ink and toward full-color, opening up possibilities for more dynamic e-books.

One of the largest, and certainly not the last, big statements that Jobs made about e-books will be said for him by Isaacson and Simon & Schuster: book sellers are already predicting that “Steve Jobs” will be the biggest non-fiction title of the year and the book quickly shot up to No. 1 on the Amazon.com best-seller list last week.

Isaacson, due to what his publicist called an [understandably] “jam-packed” schedule, was unable to comment for this article before press time.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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3 thoughts on “What Steve Jobs Thought About Digital Books

  1. The iPad led the charge away from ereaders? I don’t see ereaders going away any time soon. Certainly there are more options, with multi-function devices like the iPad (high end) and the Kindle Fire and Nook Color (low end). But enough folks find even the best LCD displays wearing on their eyes for protracted reading that the e-ink screen will most likely be around for a while. If the folks working on that technology work fast enough to get a decent color display and fast refresh rates, e-ink could be around a lot longer.

    Regardless of what Jobs thought of the market, he is on record as saying (at the point in time before the ipad was available) that ereaders didn’t matter because people don’t read anymore.

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