Steve Jobs and the Future of Publishing

September 11th, 2008

By now it’s widely-accepted that few if any publicly-traded companies are as inextricably linked to the fate and fortune of their commander-in-chief as is Apple Computer and its CEO Steve Jobs.

It’s almost a fairy-tale story: the early growth of the company, Steve’s adoption of and then ousting by that soft drink man followed by his triumphal return, the results of which have been nothing short of miraculous.

Say what you will about Steve Jobs, the man (and plenty has been said); the results speak loud and clear. Apple Computer would certainly not be where it is today without him.

But there’s the issue of his health…and there is much concern. Try googling this week’s modest announcement about the iPod, and almost all of the coverage makes reference to concern about Steve’s health. Why is that?

Well, if you missed logging in earlier this year, the word emerged that Steve had in 2003 been stricken with pancreatic cancer. He was lucky. It was a treatable form. Not that he chose to have it treated in a conventional way. According to a March issue of Fortune magazine, Steve, being a Buddhist and a vegetarian, chose for nine months to “employ alternative methods to treat his pancreatic cancer, hoping to avoid the operation through a special diet.” This failed, and he eventually agreed to an operation, and the result was apparently successful.

What many will find shocking in the Fortune article is that Apple’s bigwigs “secretly agonized over the situation — and whether the company needed to disclose anything about its CEO’s health to investors. Jobs, after all, was widely viewed as Apple’s irreplaceable leader, personally responsible for everything from the creation of the iPod to the selection of the chef in the company cafeteria. News of his illness, especially with an uncertain outcome, would surely send the company’s stock reeling. The board decided to say nothing, after seeking advice on its obligations from two outside lawyers, who agreed it could remain silent.”

The Fortune article later notes that “the SEC requires that any public company disclose material information to investors so that they can include it in their calculation of whether to buy or sell a stock. But there are no specific guidelines governing health issues, and the SEC has never taken action against a company in this area.”

I am not a lawyer, no penalty was levied against Apple in this case, so it is up to each reader to make their own judgment.

My point in creating this blog entry is that the future of publishing is not just the story of major issues and influences, but sometimes the story of one man. Looking at Apple Computer, the future of publishing is going to be strongly influenced by whether or not the CEO who made the company what it is can remain at the helm. And in these small tales, there are much larger stories to be told.