How Nice of Steve Jobs to Admit He Was Wrong! (Sort of)

After Discovering That People Do Actually Still Read, Apple Decides to Be a Little Nicer to Publishers

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It pains me to say this, but ... Oh, hell. Who am I kidding? It actually pleases me to point out that Steve Jobs was wrong about something pretty big. And though he's not the sort of guy to publicly own up to being wrong, he's lately been acknowledging the error of his ways via his/Apple's actions.

Let's rewind to Life Before the iPad. A little over three years ago, Jobs told The New York Times that he thought Amazon's Kindle was doomed. "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is ," he told the paper's John Markoff. "The fact is that people don't read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

At the time, I wrote, "If you're not devouring 'serious' literature, are you not technically reading? Are you effectively nonliterate? Clearly, Jobs thinks so. How else to explain his judgment that 'nobody reads' in a culture in which more people seem to be more obsessively engaged in producing and consuming words than, possibly, ever in the whole of human history?"

But even if you want to turn up your nose at blogs and other web-native websites, magazine and newspaper sites and apps, Facebook, Twitter and so on, Jobs was just flat-out wrong about the Kindle as a desirable book-reading device. Last December, the Kindle surpassed "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to become Amazon's best-selling product ever. Last month, Amazon announced that Kindle books now outsell print books. And a Citi analyst recently estimated that Amazon will sell 17.5 million Kindles this year and 26 million next year. Such a flop!

Since Jobs' reading-is -dead pronouncement, of course, Apple released the iPad. The company has conspicuously downplayed its role as a text-consumption device, using a recent TV spot to emphasize apps with gee-whiz moving graphics, including a "magic" interactive version of "Alice in Wonderland" that 's more of a cartoon than a book. In a supposedly post-literate world, it's not surprising that Apple would de-emphasize the use of the iPad as a simple e-reader.

But last month, Business Insider conducted a poll of 855 iPad users, and more than 70% said they read books on their iPads. Furthermore, the No. 1 thing they do on the device -- what they spend 35% of their iPad-usage time doing -- is web browsing (vs. about 12% each for watching video and playing games). And remember that the iPad's browser is famously Flash-hobbled, so that web browsing is invariably more text-intensive than it is on other platforms.

Well, wouldn't you know it? The next version of the iPad operating system, iOS 5, will finally have a unified home for all your iPad newspaper and magazine subscriptions: something called Newsstand. (The omission of a totally basic thing like Newsstand all this time suggests that Apple really had to be dragged kicking and screaming toward the realization that not only do people still read, but they still specifically read periodicals.)

And as Jordan Golson of MacRumors recently reported, Apple has reversed its earlier requirement that anyone selling app content outside Apple's system also had to sell it within the system, where Apple gets a 30% cut. Now newspapers, magazines and others that sell app content on their own web sites, where they don't have to pay Apple 30%, won't be forced to also sell within Apple's system. Given the previous terms, a lot of publishers didn't want to play Apple's game of financial hardball. At long last, Steve Jobs & Co. seem to be coming around to realizing that it's in Apple's best interest to stop standing in the way of what iPad users want. In a word: words!

Granted, we'll probably never actually hear Jobs declare, "I was wrong about people not reading anymore -- and, ironically, the iPad showed me I was wrong." But as a proud member of a text-spewing industry, I'll take even the subtlest pro-reading concessions from Apple.

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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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