Undoubtedly, Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs wrote several thousands of emails throughout his life. Relatively few of them have been shared with the public, and most of those are short responses to customer complaints.
But there are a few trails out there that show the skillful way Jobs used written communication. Let’s take a look at just one example and see what lessons we can glean from it.
[Note: This email was made part of public record when it was used as evidence in a U.S. lawsuit against Apple accusing the company of conspiring to raise the price of Ebooks in violation of antitrust laws. Apple was found guilty, although the company denied it had done anything wrong and fought the decision through the appeal process. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually declined to hear Apple’s appeal, meaning the company was required to pay a $450 million settlement.]
In 2010, Jobs and Apple were preparing to release the iPad. A key feature would be the tablet’s ability to function as an e-reader, similar to Amazon’s Kindle (which had already been out for a few years). Of course, the more publishers willing to contribute books to Apple’s iTunes store, the more appeal the iPad would hold.
Four major publishers had already signed on, but another, HarperCollins, was holding out.
Negotiations eventually centered around a key conversation between Jobs and James Murdoch, an executive at News Corp. (HarperCollins’ parent company). Murdoch wasn’t convinced his company (and its partners) could agree to the terms Apple was offering, especially regarding the “ceding of pricing to Apple.”
Jobs proceeded to write an email to try to convince HC to join.
Here’s what it said:
Our proposal does set the upper limit for ebook retail pricing based on the hardcover price of each book. The reason we are doing this is that, with our experience selling a lot of content online, we simply don’t think the ebook market can be successful with pricing higher than $12.99 or $14.99. Heck, Amazon is selling these books at $9.99, and who knows, maybe they are right and we will fail even at $12.99. But we’re willing to try at the prices we’ve proposed. We are not willing to try at higher prices because we are pretty sure we’ll all fail.
As I see it, HC has the following choices:
1. Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.
2. Keep going with Amazon at $9.99. You will make a bit more money in the short term, but in the medium term Amazon will tell you they will be paying you 70 percent of $9.99. They have shareholders too.
3. Hold back your books from Amazon. Without a way for customers to buy your ebooks, they will steal them. This will be the start of piracy and once started there will be no stopping it. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen with my own eyes.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see any other alternatives. Do you?