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June 2005 – The Wiley-Apple Affair

Insights, Gripes, and Conjecture

I have no evidence to support the following belief beyond my gut feeling, but I do have a gut to feel it. I firmly believe that my colleagues in the trade press smiled that “glad it’s not me” smile of remembered agita when they heard the news that Apple Computer banished books published by John Wiley & Sons from Apple retail stores because the publisher refused to suppress an unauthorized biography of Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs.

A recap just in case you missed this: At press time, Wiley still planned a May 13 release of iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon. Apparently, Apple failed to talk Wiley into suppressing the book. According to an April 30 report in The New York Times, it is unclear whether anyone at Apple, say Mr. Jobs, has read the book, although one report I found said that one Apple exec had a copy.

According to some reports, Mr. Jobs, though a public figure, felt a book about him violated his privacy. Reuters quoted author Young as saying he understood “that Wiley requested or asked if there were any factual changes to be made in the book or errors and that’s when they (Apple) said the only thing satisfying to us would be not to publish the book.”

Wiley refused to suppress the book. It was then that all technical books bearing the John Wiley & Sons imprint and regardless of content were pulled from Apple retail stores.

This is where I smiled. Been there. Done that. Glad it’s someone else.

I cannot tell you how many times representatives from some company have demanded that we suppress an article because they do not have control over what the author thinks or says. In the trade press, it maybe uglier than in the mainstream media since we are assumed to be lapdogs, ready to do tricks for ads. (Too many of us are, but that’s a rant for another day.)

The Wiley-Apple affair is a good example of what is wrong with your press. Stars and companies feel entitled to dictate to us what we say about them and how. Bullying is normal. You deserve better.

Whether iCon is a hatchet job or a love song is not the issue. Apple’s reaction is not the issue. They can sue if it’s slander, and Apple has every right to pull Wiley’s books in a petulant fit over not getting its way. I hope that this will help Wiley sell more books.

The issue is that this pressure and reaction is, sadly, pretty routine. Its effect on editors, writers, and publishing companies can be chilling: Some become cowering lapdogs ever-ready to yap the glories of a company. Others become vengeful knight-errants, ever-ready to slay the evil company, even if that means compromising their high morals. Thankfully, many shrug it all off and strive to remain fair.

Companies such as Apple need the press as much as the press needs companies such as Apple. Since we are in this life together, lighten up. Keep your image-polishing and save your pique for something worth the effort. Something like Freedom of the Press.

Thanks, Pal.—Lockwood

About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Desktop Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@deskeng.com.