Steve Jobs thinks books are bunk

From an NYT blog, a Steve Jobs quote bashing Amazon’s (no longer new) e-book reader:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “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.”

So, fellow writers, fellow readers, throw up your hands in defeat, the iPod generation has triumphed. Burning books is so twentieth century, we will simply declare reading to be a waste of time, a marketplace irrelevance, and move on.

What a prick.

(via Appalachian Geek, who has much smarter things than I to say about it)


  1. BTW, what makes Jobs’ statement even more ridiculous is that we produce more words – more book – more magazines – more web pages — more of everything wordy than at any point in history.

    We read more today than we’ve ever done. He equates books sales to reading…


    Really? Maybe it’s time to bring the Coke folks back to Apple. He’s his the ciga-weed a bit too much.

  2. Forty percent is just a bit higher than the number who still support Bush, but if he’s dealing with raw population figures, I bet a lot of small children are part of the sample. I’d like to see where he gets his data.

  3. Hey I know you guys are writers and WANT to believe it ain’t so, but I am an adult language teacher and in the 15 years that I’ve been doing this job, I’ve been hard pressed to find more than a handful of people who read even 1 book a year.
    Here in Spain (and don’t remember the exact fiqure offhand) the majority of books are sold on a SINGLE day in the year, April 23rd, St Jordi – and it’s because of a simple St Valentines Day type of obligation. But even then I can vouch for the fact that the majority of these books (in a large part TV tie-ins and sports as the tradition is that women buy for men) are not read.

    If Jobs thought there was a future in books I’m sure he’d be devoping an iReader or whatever. You only have to look at the Amazon front page (bestselling boots etc) to see that even their future business plans lie elsewhere.

  4. I agree Ben – publishing is booming. Maybe you guys live in a world where publishing = sales = readers. However the world of Spanish publishing is as sordid as it gets.
    Here’s a nice little example from the media world. A few yews ago the Catalan government decided that a daily newspaper in Catalan was needed – not because there is any market for it, as , if you believe statisics, every single market study has shown conclusively that there isn’t. However, after pouring millions of taxpayers pesetas & euros into it, the government decided to get out. Obviously they couldn’t let the paper die so they looked around for a “buyer” which they found in the shape of the largest media group in Catalonia, the Grupo Godo. This group were not interested in a black hole newspaper but they WERE interested in various lucrative radio stations and making further inroads into the TV market.
    It was a done deal – at the next round of licensing meetings for the audio-visual sector, the Grupo Godo “won” the right to take over the licenses of various stations and their advertising revenue. So now we continue to have a daily Catalan paper which nobody reads – but of course can demonstrate that publishing in Catalan is on the rise.

    As pointed out in the economist article, educational publishing is under strict governmental control in most Spanish speaking countries. This is not just for financial reasons but ideological ones. School textbooks change in Spain with each new government – and being forced to buy books for school does not a reader make. Yes, the students (or their parents) buy the original course books. They then leave the book unread and get online to download the pass notes.

    Government money will always guarantee that statistics will reflect the political interests and book publishing contracts for the brother-in-laws’ company can be mutually beneficial. Quotas need to be met and CULTURE is a very important propaganda tool.

    As I said, this is just the situation here, in Orwellian Spain. I would tend to trust the figures of people with vested economic interests like Jobs than figures released by equally vested parties such as governments and publishers.

  5. Actually, I wasn’t talking about book publishing. I was talking about words produced. The amount of reading we do. I was an English teacher in HS and MS before I became a reporter. And now I teach writing in college.

    Not that any of that matters in terms of the facts. You know, my dad sold insurance, too.

  6. Chris — Unfortunately I don’t doubt that reading is in fact on the decline. My experience with the publishing industry in the States, at least, is that it, like the record companies, is deeply unsure of how to connect with people who are increasingly saturated with different forms of media. I love video games, but the more video games kids play, the less they read, I fear.

    What I’m sorry to see is a figure who is a kind of cultural hero dismissing books because they don’t fit into his business model. I don’t ask that Jobs start appearing at local read-to-kids afternoons; but even he ought to understand that literacy and the ability to sustain attention and analysis through the course of an entire book is a useful skill, not just an outdated luxury.

    Thanks for the insight into the Spanish-language market, that’s interesting stuff.

  7. Yes, thanks Chris. I guess I was actually equating sales with readers, which would only be true in a non-controlled market. And I hear you John, I too think it’s sad to see Mr. Dark Zen Jobs in such a self-congratulory mode. As if he’d be happy to throw a few books on the pyre himself, if only to prove how very right about everything he is.

  8. Brad – you’re absolutely right about the number of words being produced – but it’s also true that we are reading them increasingly on the screen and I know that we who are deeply into blogs etc assume that everybody else is the same. But the general public have little idea of what an rss feed is and it’s clearly true that as the internet becomes more mainstream, content is moving to video, reflecting that the iPod generation or whatever prefer image to the written word.

    I’m a 45 year old male – I think it would be interesting to know the demographic of the people commenting here, as I think we are clearly people who care about the ability of the written word to transmit ideas, but the great thing about technology is that it is allowing us to have this conversation from across the world and without any form of mediation.

    John I agree too about the problem of attention span – I guess Harry Potter has shown it’s possible but I don’t whether Potter addicts read anything else. Also I think that the music industry had its coke filled head so far up its ass that I’m not surprised that it has lost it. When I look at the record contracts I signed I am glad they have lost their slave-master capacity but of course the ALBUM as us old farts know it is dead.

    Actually I envy you guys in Berlin – I am pretty obsessed by the place which is how I discovered this blog – as you live in a place which seems to have a discourse about itself and history. In Spain the past is ignored at best, wiped out at worst, not least because many public figures here have so much to hide . The blogs I’m reading from Berlin seem to have a lot more content than the !living in spain is great, party all night long” stuff that we get here.

    As for Jobs maybe we should challenge him to “save” the written word – I’m sure that is something that would appeal to his Messianic nature…

  9. Interesting post and replies…My personal view is that book publishing may be suffering in the marketplace against other forms of media, but in the end there will always be a place for “traditional” publishing because there will be enough of a minority that will always want to own the object itself, as well as the information inside, if only to display them in their living rooms to show visitors what educated and cultured people they are 🙂

  10. I guess my point is publishing books – yeah, clearly on the decline. But that’s not the publishing industry. That’s not words. That’s not writing. I don’t equate a business model to the act…

    When we have digital paper – which I’ve seen when I worked at MIT – you’ll see a revolution in the publishing industry much like you are seeing with the music industry.

    (btw, if we believe that every disruptive technology destroyed an industry – then the music industry should have gone out of business about 10 different times…radio, 8-tracks, tapes, cds, mp3 files, cable radio feeds, internet radio, ect ect)

    Models change – media doesn’t go away.

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