How Apple and Wiley are just like GM and the LA Times

I’ve been sitting on this story for a few weeks, letting the neurons fire and the connections happen inside my head, and it’s now clear to me that Apple banning Wiley books from the Apple stores because of an apparently unflattering bio of Apple CEO Steve Jobs is identical to GM’s fracas with the LA Times a month or two ago.
Wiley publishes tons of books, including my own Creating Cool Web Sites. In 1987 Wiley published Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward, written by Jeff Young. 18 years later, Jeff Young’s written a new book about Steve Jobs with the inflammatory title of iCon – Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.
Upon hearing about this new title, Jobs says “no way are we helping that publisher” and kicks Wiley’s entire library of best-selling Macintosh titles out of every Apple Store worldwide. Wiley responds…

Well, the people at Apple aren’t stupid, and the folks at Wiley are no fools either. As best they could, Wiley managed to turn the proverbial lemons into lemonade with the following memo that they sent to bookstores:

Greetings Booksellers! Publicity surrounding our titles being yanked from Apple store because of our forthcoming Jobs biography blew-up yesterday. Here are two wire stories and many regional original articles ran last night. The AP and Reuters pieces are getting lots of pick up today. Here’s a sampling. Wiley is offering a 5 for 50%, direct, or you can source through Partners. The book releases on May 13 (revised from 5/25, originally promised 4/8).

Before I talk about the parallels with General Motors, though, I asked my friend Dave Henley, owner of the cool Texas-based technical bookstore for his take on the situation. As always, he’s cogent and thoughtful:

I know few details about the situation and/or the background or nature of the business relationship between Wiley & Apple. Understanding the situation and background issues thoroughly, I believe, is key to a strong opinion on the subject. My opinion(s) are therefore not too strong on the matter.

While I don’t necessarily agree with Apple’s stance (free “speech” is one of this country’s most fundamental tenets), I also don’t feel as though their reaction to pull other Wiley books is “childish” or unjustified given their position on the book. If a business partner, neighbor or friend of mine did something against my wishes – depending of course upon the nature of the “offense” – I would certainly rethink my role in the partnership. I’d certainly consider not extending myself as much for that partner.

In this instance, Apple – rightfully or wrongfully – told Wiley that they didn’t appreciate and/or want the information to be made public. Wiley did so anyway, and Apple reacted by removed Wiley’s products from their stores. In essence, Apple said, “You didn’t do us any favors in x, y, z instance, and we’re certainly not going to do you any favors in return”.

So, again, while I may not have had the same feelings about a book written about me or wouldn’t have had the same negative reaction to the book that Apple had, I also don’t think that they’re decision to pull Wiley books given their desires was unjustified.

Very well stated, and a nice counterpoint to the ubiquitous “Jobs is a jerk” coverage that almost every other media out has used to characterize this interesting story. Frankly, he’s not a jerk at all, he’s one of our smartest and most successful business leaders. Yes, he’s volatile and has a long history of not suffering fools — a characteristic that I don’t respect — but the knee-jerk one-sided criticism amazes me.
So let’s talk a bit about the General Motors situation. First off, a reference: General Motors Miffed at LA Times, Pulls All Advertising.
In a nutshell, GM didn’t like a review published in the LA Times, a review which criticized GM management as well as the specific car in question, so GM pulled its $10 million advertising from the LA Times. The two organizations worked with an ombudsman at the Times and things are apparently worked out to some degree or other now.
Media coverage of the GM/LA Times situation — mine included, I admit — focused on how inappropriately GM behaved and that GM needed to learn how to accept criticism of management. Jobs finds out about a bio of him that’s called iCon, of all things, and equally gets miffed and kicks the publisher out of his stores, and the media covers it in exactly the same way.
But what if we’re all wrong and Dave Henley’s right when he observes that companies work together under the assumption that it’s mutually beneficial and that each can trust the other. Once that trust is broken, once you can’t safely presume that your partner is serving both of your interests, is it so darn unreasonable to say “stop!” and rethink your relationship with them?
If I had a friend who was telling people negative things about me, I would certainly not be inviting them into my life once I learned about it. Is that a violation of “free speech”? GM didn’t sue the Times for the story, Jobs isn’t preventing the publication of the book, so why is the tired, over-applied “first amendment” pulled out yet again anyway?
I applaud Steve Jobs for the courage of his convictions, for saying that as the head of Apple Computer, he has the right to act in the best interest of the shareholders and in this case, it’s all about protecting the brand. Jobs is irreversibly identified with Apple and anything that adversely affects his public persona will also affect the company similarly. So why would Apple feel an obligation to help promote a publishing company that’s shaking hands and thrusting a knife into the back of Apple simultaneously?
But enough typing. What do you, dear reader, think about Apple and Wiley, or GM and the LA Times?

3 comments on “How Apple and Wiley are just like GM and the LA Times

  1. Just to pick one specific angle on a multi-faceted issue… what exactly does Apple or its shareholders (or customers or business partners) gain by the the move to retaliate against Wiley?
    Superficially, the move by Jobs appears more of a juvenile act of vengence rather than a professional business move designed to advance the interests of the company and its shareholders.
    Put another way, what would even the best business schools and consultants advise professional executives to do in a similar situation where the interests of the company and its shareholders is the paramount concern?
    The issue with GM is a little more complicated and obviously was a desperate act of true damage control. GM is struggling to survive, whereas Apple “has it made in the shade”.
    Newspaper critics tend to shoot from the hip and take a looser stance towards accuracy since subjective opinion is their fare, whereas book authors try to weave a plausible story based on rock-solid facts with less room for personal opinions.
    I wouldn’t let GM totally off the hook, but I would be biased strongly in favor of the objectivity of Wiley compared to the LA Times.
    — Jack Krupansky

  2. I like Robert X Cringely’s take on this, which you’ll find here (scroll to the bottom):
    Key quote:
    “I think this episode with Wiley and Apple’s earlier legal attacks on people who it accused of leaking product information are part of a campaign to look tough to movie studios and record companies. As I’ve surmised before, Apple is trying to put together a high definition movie download service that requires content from all the major movie studios. If Steve looks soft on IP theft or unwilling to flex his corporate legal muscles, the studios may think he won’t adequately protect their corporate jewels.”

  3. Jack, what Apple/Jobs is doing looks like passive retaliation, i.e. a boycott. This is a time honored method of making your opinion know. I hope it wasn’t a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction and that Apple/Jobs deliberated on their response for a reasonable length of time.
    While I am not an Apple fan, I would be willing to bet that said fans would not be appreciative of Wiley’s publishing something that smacks of ‘anti-hero’.
    As for the media’s raising the 1st Admendment banner, well, I won’t get on my ‘high horse’ about the lack of similar response to real attacks on other Articles of the Bill of Rights.

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