Having followed Apple since the 1980s, I often don’t recognize the company described in some of the articles I read. This has been especially true since the passing of Steve Jobs. The meme is that Apple couldn’t have gone so far without Jobs, and thus his absence means the company is toast. Anything that seems even somewhat negative is used as evidence that this all must be true.
I’ll ignore, for a moment, that Apple’s stock price is actually higher now than when Jobs was alive. After all, the stock price has had wide swings over the years, and those wide swings didn’t always reflect the reality of Apple’s finances.
Now imagine you get the assignment to write a book about how Apple is doing since Jobs died. Or maybe you pitched the book to a publisher. Regardless, how would you approach the job? Would you attempt to interview current and former Apple employees to get a fair picture of the company? Would you examine the products, the financials, and other reports about Apple to separate fact from fiction?
Or would you begin the task with a specific point of view? What, for example, would a title such as “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs” mean? Well, it’s pretty obvious, so the question is whether former Wall Street Journal Apple reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane used that title as the focus and wrote a book to convey that point of view, or whether the title flows naturally from the book manuscript?
I would hope the latter, although reviews from people I know and trust clearly indicate the book was meant to be a hatchet job. What’s more, Apple is taking it very seriously regardless. You see, Apple never comments about books, but this time, CEO Tim Cook has made it crystal clear he’s not impressed:
This nonsense belongs with some of the other books I’ve read about Apple. It fails to capture Apple, Steve, or anyone else in the company. Apple has over 85,000 employees that come to work each day to do their best work, to create the world’s best products, to put their mark in the universe and leave it better than they found it. This has been the heart of Apple from day one and will remain at the heart for decades to come. I am very confident about our future.
I wonder about those other books, but this paragraph appears to have been carefully messaged through Apple’s PR machine. It covers all the salient points, and conveys an image the company chooses to present. But it’s also clear Apple expects people to be impressed by Kane’s book because it comes from a mainstream reporter. So they are doing damage control.
But it’s not just Cook. Eddy Cue, the Senior Vice President for Internet Software and Services, denied an anecdote about how he become a member of Jobs inner circle, which included Jobs throwing a pen at him.
Now the behavior seems par for the course for the mercurial Jobs, and perhaps it was conveyed to the book’s author by a former employee who might have even believed it to be true. To be sure, nobody currently in Apple’s employ would submit to questions, and if they did on background, and got caught, they would likely be looking for a new job real soon now.
The larger question is whether the book was meant as a sincere effort to put together a full picture of Apple as a company, its past, and its possible future path, or whether it was meant as a hit piece for which the title was established before the manuscript was written. Of course, I wouldn’t pretend to know, but the reviews haven’t been very favorable. More to the point, a number of factual errors have been discovered, which is even worse. You can disagree with someone’s opinions, but facts are facts.
This doesn’t mean Apple is blameless and made no mistakes when Jobs was here and after he was gone. That would be downright absurd. But one hopes that a book’s author, usually having more time to do a decent job of research unless pressed with a particularly unreasonable deadline, would double and triple check facts and make sure, as much as possible, that everything is presented as accurately as possible.
It may be that facts don’t really matter. If the book breaks sales records, the publisher and author will be happy. But I did check the situation at Amazon as I wrote this column. With several dozen reviews, the ratings hovered between two and three stars (out of five). Sales were decidedly average; nothing that would put it in the potential best seller category.
Sure, the sales picture at Amazon can change quickly, more so as a book climbs up the sales ladder. But I’m not seeing the love for this book, and its negative bias was not overlooked by the reviewers.
As for me, I’m happy to read books that cover a subject from all sides, but nothing about this book tempts me to buy a copy. I’ve read enough fiction about Apple without having to pay for it.