Earlier this week New York Times blogger John Markoff got the chance to sit down and talk with Steve Jobs. In a fascinating and wide ranging interview they talk about the MacBook Air, the Kindle, Google smart phone, television and Bill Gates.
Jobs disses the Kindle and predicts it will go nowhere. From his perspective:
"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, 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."
Steve loves controversy, and this is one more in a long line of outrageous statements. It most certainly will get him and the new MacBook Air noticed.
I happen to agree that the Kindle is a deeply flawed product - ugly, proprietary and dumb. But I am not letting him off the hook here: his statement is deeply flawed (not to mention dumb and inflammatory).
People Don't Read Anymore
First and foremost is the presumption that the only reading that "counts" is book reading. Particularly ironic in this case since the interview was given to someone who writes a blog; last time I checked most people read blogs.
His statement ignores newspapers and magazines and the tremendous amount of reading done online.
How many people do you think will read his statement that no one reads anymore?
Oh yeah, there is this: I would be willing to bet that more time is spent reading email on the iPhone than watching TV or actually talking.
There isn't a market for Books
Makes you wonder why Amazon is in business at all, doesn't it? But even more problematic is that his statement is not accurate. The actual statistic from the National Endowments for the Arts study is:
57% percent of Americans over the age of 18 read at least one book per year not required for work or school.
Let's just take the statement at face value. Let's agree that there isn't much market for books or book related technology. Then let's do the math:
- The US population is about 300 million people.
- If 57% of them read 1 book a year then there is (at the very least) a 171 million unit market.
- The average book price is $18.00
- That translates to something like a $3 Billion market. . .
By the way actual annual book sales in the US are more than $16 Billion per year
I personally wouldn't sneeze at that kind of money. And that doesn't touch the educational market.
Before you so lightly dismiss reading (and eBooks) you probably ought to start praying that people continue to read for a while.
If they don't, all those iPhones and that shiny new MacBook Air (which requires the user to read) will be sitting on the shelf for a long time to come.