Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D, IL) recently took the floor of Congress to complain about what he perceived as inaction to create jobs for millions of unemployed Americans. Bizarrely, he took aim at Apple's iPad, claiming the device as "probably responsible for eliminating thousands of American jobs."
Jackson cited the recent bankruptcy of Borders bookstores as an example, and rhetorically asked "Why do you need to go to Barnes & Noble? Buy an iPad and download your newspaper, download your book, download your magazine." He went on to talk about plans to Chicago State University's plans to create a "textbookless" campus by giving incoming freshman students iPads.
"Well, what becomes of publishing companies and publishing company jobs? What becomes of bookstores and librarians and all the jobs associated with paper," he asked. "In the not too distant future, such jobs simply won't exist."
Jackson's concern for unemployed Americans is, of course, well placed. But his decision to target the iPad is wildly off course.
Certainly the publishing market is changing. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-books now account for the number one format among all trade categories.
I'm acutely aware of the changing publishing market better than many - I'm a victim of that change, myself. My magazine publishing job was eliminated in late 2009, partly thanks to the changing nature of how people are getting their information - from dead tree magazine publishing to online sources. But even I think Jackson's charge is ridiculous.
This didn't happen just because of the iPad. There's an obscure little online retailer called Amazon. Amazon happens to sell quite a few books. It also has a nifty device called the Kindle, which lets you read books electronically. It's been around a bit longer than the iPad. Amazon deep discounts on books has deeply cut into booksellers' ability to make a profit. I suspect the Kindle has also had a longer and more profound impact on the publishing market than the iPad.
But Jackson went on to explain that the iPad is manufactured in China, and that Chinese workers are therefore take advantage of "our First Amendment value, that is to provide freedom of speech through the iPad to the American people."
It's at this point where Rep. Jackson's polemics go off the rail. The iPad may indeed provide access to information for Americans, but it's sold globally. It's hardly just for Americans.
What's more, there's no guarantee of First Amendment rights for anyone using an iPad, or creating content for the iPad - Apple acts as the final gatekeeper for the products sold for the iPad through the App Store. Sure, there are newspapers, magazines and books available, and those publications that are produced in the U.S. are guaranteed Constitutional freedoms, but Jackson's correlation is flimsy and awkward at best.
I certainly agree with Rep. Jackson's concern about the plight of low-wage retail workers whose jobs were eliminated by Borders' recent bankruptcy filing. But just last month, when Steve Jobs took the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to unveil the iPad 2, he announced that Apple has returned $2 billion to developers of software for iOS devices.
That's $2 billion that simply didn't exist before, all the developers' cut of revenue associated with devices like the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
That doesn't account for the millions in revenue generated by the sales of iPad accessories - cases, screen covers, cables, and so on. Or for the bucks raked in by retailers - big box stores, Apple retail stores, mail-order companies and independent retailers alike - who sell the iPad.
In short, I suspect the iPad has created - and will continue to create - a lot more jobs than can be directly or indirectly related to its release.
So Rep. Jackson, please keep fighting the good fight to get Americans back to work. But next time, leave the iPad out of it. It's plain to see that you simply don't know what the hell you're talking about.