Steve Jobs made product launches into media events. Now those same Apple rollouts determine the schedules of a bunch of other companies.
EVERY WEEK, thousands of Serbians bundle up in bed and flip on their televisions for their fix of “Evening with Ivan Ivanovic,” a cheesy “Late Show” knockoff complete with a live studio audience, a rock band, and an eager host clasping a coffee mug in front of a fake Belgrade skyline. One evening this spring, Ivanovic proudly announced that his guest would be the first American ever to appear on the show. With gusto, the band struck up a brassy rendition of “New York, New York” and Rudy Giuliani, wearing his familiar toothy grin, descended a bright, glowing staircase to wild cheers.
The first thing to be said about the lawsuit filed last week by the Justice Department against Apple and five book publishers is that the defendants very well may be guilty. There does seem to have been collusion among them to fix the price of e-books. But even if the book publishers’ actions were illegal, that’s not to suggest what they did wasn’t understandable. Indeed, there’s a plausible case to be made that the actions of the publishers actually amounted to combating an abusive monopoly—namely, Amazon.
Like wolves and teenagers, literary scandals travel in packs, and the first of the spring are already upon us. First came The Lifespan of a Fact, a new book by essayist John D’Agata and his fact-checker Jim Fingal, which presents the blood-and-tears saga of Fingal’s seven-year-long attempt to verify a piece by D’Agata about the suicide of a Las Vegas teenager.
Steve Jobs By Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $35) I. In 2010, Der Spiegel published a glowing profile of Steve Jobs, then at the helm of Apple. Jobs’s products are venerated in Germany, especially by young bohemian types. Recently, the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg presented an exhibition of Apple’s products, with the grandiloquent subtitle “On Electro-Design that Makes History”—a good indication of the country’s infatuation with the company.
Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement By Brad R. Roth (Oxford University Press, 320 pp., $70) Sovereignty is back. Our debates about the global economic crisis keep returning to the problem of sovereign debt and the need for sovereign guarantees to reassure the markets. We keep hoping that somewhere, sometime, in the downward spiral of de-leveraging and disillusion there will be an authority—a sovereign—to take charge and put an end to our anxiety. This longing for an authority, after years of market follies, runs very deep. We want to know that someone is in control.
This is one of those Mondays with too much news to cover. South Carolina and the Republican primaries. The State of the Union. Ryan Lizza’s fascinating look inside the Obama administration. And two incredible football games. But I want to talk about a feature story from Sunday’s New York Times, which isn’t about any of those things except that, in a sense, it’s about all of those things. Well, all of them except football. The article is about the iPhone and why Apple, which once upon a time built its computers in the U.S., decided to manufacture the devices elsewhere.
Editor's note: As I was thinking about Sunday's New York Times article about iPhone manufacturing, I e-mailed a few economists to see what lessons they drew from it. One was Andrew Samwick, of Dartmouth, who pointed me to a post at his new blog. There, he stresses, among other things, the importance of "agglomeration": Manufacturers like to build new plans in close proximity to suppliers.
Even the “Genius” at your local Apple store admits that your dollar buys significantly more computing power in a PC. iTunes can be infuriatingly glitchy and difficult to navigate. The iPod is so delicate a flower that it breaks, seemingly, if you exhale in its vicinity. What, then, explains a world awash in longing, admiration, and loss in the wake of Steve Jobs’ death last week at the age of 56?
Steve Jobs was the greatest manufacturer of consumer products of his age. His marketing vision put him on par with Henry Ford, and his grasp of the aesthetic component to industrial design far surpassed Ford’s. But Jobs differed from Ford in one significant way. His surname to the contrary, he did not create a lot of American jobs.I raise this point not to single out Jobs, whose tendency to “offshore” manufacturing jobs followed economic imperatives not of his making. He did what his contemporaries in America’s younger and more flexible manufacturing companies did. Rather, my purpose is to illustrate the perplexing failure even of one of America’s most stunningly successful companies to provide domestic employment on anything like the scale that America was once able to take for granted.