OFF THE GRID

The Last Mogul: Has Steve Jobs Won?

Jun 8, 10 | 7:50 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The age of Steve Jobs is, to say the least, unexpected.

Windows knocked him off the main stage for 10 years; then the Internet seemed to sideline him; not to mention that serious business people (along with many others) thought he was nutty; then he had problems with the SEC (and not insignificant ones); then he nearly died.

Indeed, Rupert Murdoch’s paean to Jobs the other day, proclaiming Jobs the nation’s best chief executive (Murdoch used to say this about Gates when he was trying to do deals with him), comes after a number of years in which a preferred Murdoch subject was the state of Jobs' health: “Boy, oh boy, he’s a real goner,” is how I remember Murdoch putting it, quite, it seemed, with some relish.

But here we are. Apple now has a bigger market cap than Microsoft (a prospect that not even the most devoted Apple fans would ever have imagined); the company is directly threatening Google for control of a significant part of the digital customer’s money and time; Jobs’ problems with the SEC have, magically, disappeared; and he seems, mirable dictu, very much alive.

Is this good news?

Murdoch and many other traditional publishers think so because the iPad offers a relatively straightforward way to digitally repurpose existing content with a potentially profitable business model (if this was once also the dream of the web, it hasn’t worked out that way). Murdoch certainly has spectacular ambitions for the Wall Street Journal on the iPad, hoping for a million more subscribers. It is true that, behind the scenes, there is a huge gnashing of teeth about Jobs' plans to control everybody else’s sales and revenue models. His subjugation of the music business is an obvious and cautionary lesson. Still, he is, for publishers, the only game in town. Murdoch’s kind words for him now—as opposed to his questions not just about Jobs’ physical but also mental health in the past—are part of everybody’s desperate effort to suck up to the guy who controls the only game.

For the machine-loving consumer, Jobs’ triumph over Microsoft and Bill Gates is a marvel. Life seldom turns out this way. It’s a first in the history of architecture, where, in the mass market, the sensuous and beautiful triumphs over the functional and economic. The cost of such beauty, however, is having to accede to Apple’s world. Still, it is so much more pleasurable than the Windows world.

But it is not just this world that is being acceded to—it’s acceding to Jobs himself.

Murdoch may not be right about Jobs being the nation’s best chief executive, but Jobs may be the most powerful. He is, at this point, even more powerful in his universe than Murdoch in his, which is saying something.

We may never before have had a single executive in a public company who is so personally powerful.

Is this good news?

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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