Does Steve Jobs hate reading?

That’s the provocative theory put forward by Sue Zoldak in an opinion piece on The Daily Caller blog.

She starts out by noting that in some cases hardcover prices are lower than e-book prices (something I’ve mentioned before myself), and points out that—unlike the iTunes deal that lowered the price of music when sold digitally—Jobs used publishers’ fears of Amazon to negotiate a rise in e-book prices. This came at the expense of Amazon, who was using exactly the same model to sell Kindles that Jobs had used to sell iPods.

The real question is, why the diametrically opposed philosophies by Steve Jobs? He wanted everyone to listen to music and revolutionized the music industry with the $0.99 song pricing model, so why doesn’t he want you to read $9.99 books? Why did he think it was important to bring music to the masses at a low price but that what book-lovers needed were higher prices?

She suggests one possibility might be that, thanks to the large captive audience built by the iPad and iPhone app stores (with an estimated 125 million credit card numbers on file with Apple) might mean that impulse e-book buying was easy enough that people wouldn’t need further incentive. But regardless, Zoldak feels, consumers won’t accept e-book prices that are higher than hardcover prices, and this pricing model will not “save” the industry.

Zodak also notes that this is leading to a rise in self-published books sold at much lower price points, and that consumers are continuing the practice of one-star protest-reviewing books that are priced higher in electrons than on paper. And strangely enough, in at least some cases the publishers are listening—an e-book mentioned prominently in a CNET article about the 1-star reviews was subsequently repriced to $2 less than the hardcover.

As for whether Jobs has an anti-book agenda, I doubt it. On the other hand, he did point out, years ago, that nobody reads much anymore, so maybe he just doesn’t think enough people will buy e-books to matter either way?

11 Comments on Does Steve Jobs hate reading?

  1. What is so provocative about this puff piece? Publishers were looking for a way to curb Amazon’s pricing power in the ebook arena, while Jobs had no interest in selling books at a loss. Thus their agreement. It was self interest and nothing else.

  2. Well, it clearly provoked you. :)

  3. A silly piece of nonsense.

    “Jobs used publishers’ fears of Amazon to negotiate a rise in e-book prices.”

    Jobs had and has nothing to do with the pricing, which is set by the publishers.

  4. The silliness of the question posed is that it seems to assume that a company’s business philosophy is built on stable ideals, when of course it is usually based on what they believe will be more profitable.

    Apple could not break into this market by trying to lower prices. Amazon was already pricing bestsellers at a significant loss in order to dominate the market. Apple couldn’t compete at that game without losing even more money on the deal. Clearly, a different tactic was called for. Since they couldn’t beat the competitor on price, they instead negotiated with publishers to change the way e-books were priced. If you can’t win with the existing rules, change the rules.

    For Apple, this wasn’t about hating reading or wanting higher prices, this was about finding a way to compete without doing so at a loss. And quite frankly, this is so obvious that I wonder how anyone could even come up with these questions.

  5. @ Chris Meadows

    Not provoked, just disappointed at such a poorly thought out piece. No attempt is made to understand the reasons why Apple and the publishers would go to to an agency system. After understanding their line of thinking one can attack or defend it from various angles.

    Simply saying that Jobs liked higher prices because he hates reading seems absurd because it is.
    Vonda Z above certainly explains more about this than Sue Zoldak.

  6. It is the opinion of many of my fellows that hardback prices were deliberately lowered, along with a corresponding series of hikes in eBooks prices, by the big five/six in order to stem the vast tide of eBook popularity with the powerful (yet flighty) sword of disenfranchisement. Unfortunately for the large conglomerates, they’ve mostly fostered a wall of resentment toward themselves, verses eBooks, driving consumers to search the internet and choose from a veritable wellspring of self-published digital literature, priced at a far, far better price than they have ever done.

  7. Paulo Guerreiro // April 11, 2011 at 1:53 am //

    Is it in your opinion the same to publish or write a book that it is to write a song or even an album?
    Do you think that the amount of readers is the same as the amount of music buyers?
    The book is still made to go to a hardcopy, they still have to print it so is only natural that like the hardback/paperback principle books will at higher prices untill the costs may be covered and only then may they become cheaper.

    I really don’t see the point of this question or how do you expect it to be any other way except if don’t know anything about the book business and if so you do better to try and understand that first

  8. “She starts out by noting that in some cases hardcover prices are lower than e-book prices (something I’ve mentioned before myself)…”

    Ah-heh. “What I can get it for” is not the same thing as “price”, if you’re trying to compare prices. A book that falls off the back of a truck is free, but that doesn’t mean that the price of hardcover books is zero.

  9. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. ”

    That’s a classic piece of misdirection by Jobs, perfectly stated.

    Why? Turn it around, and it says that SIXTY percent of the people in the U.S. read two books or MORE last year.

    Who wouldn’t want a piece of that market?

  10. Merriam Webster defines “price” (in the definition most relevant here) as “the amount of money given or set as consideration for the sale of a specified thing.” I have trouble seeing how that does not equate to “what I can get it for.”

  11. @Chris: So you’re saying that yes, since books can fall off the back of a truck, the only justifiable price for a book is zero?

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