With a plate of sushi on the table, Steve Jobs once boasted to him Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, that Apple had created the best Windows application ever built.
Steve Jobs told Jeff Bezos about iTunes for Windows before its release
The Apple co-founder later suggested, indirectly, that the software could kill a major revenue stream for Amazon.
Steve Jobs he was referring to iTunes for Windows, which they had introduced in October 2003 (and which Jobs later referred to as the equivalent of “give a glass of ice water to someone in hell”). Bezos took a look at iTunes for Windows before the rest of the world, and he also endured a typically Jobs dig into CDs and the future of Amazon.
The anecdote comes from a new book, titled Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets From Inside Amazon. It is written by Amazon employees Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, who joined the company in the late 1990s.
In the book, the authors recounted a meeting in the fall of 2003 in which Bezos, Bryar, and Diego Piacentini, a former Apple vice president who had switched to Amazon, traveled from Seattle to Cupertino to meet with Jobs:
Jobs and another Apple employee greeted us and then took us to a conference room where there was a Windows PC and two plates of sushi to go. We had an informal discussion about the state of the music industry (note: this wasn’t long after Apple launched iTunes) while doing some serious damage to sushi dishes, because it was already dinner time.
After wiping his mouth with a napkin, Jobs moved on to the real purpose of the meeting and announced that Apple had just finished building its first Windows app. He calmly and confidently told us that although it was Apple’s first attempt to build for Windows, he thought it was the best Windows application anyone had ever built.
iTunes lands on Windows
At the time, iTunes on Windows was big news. Before this, PC users were running software created by a company called MusicMatch to use iPods with your Windows machines. But Jobs, specifically, wanted to control as much of the user experience as possible. That meant porting iTunes to Windows, which also meant renegotiating Apple’s deal with record labels.
The idea of Jobs giving Bezos a sneak peek at iTunes for Windows is pretty clever. After all, the two of them had worked together before. In 1999, Amazon introduced its revolutionary one-click checkout feature. Jobs loved it, and licensed it for Apple. In other words, the two of them had a kind of working relationship.
But after the demo, Jobs made a comment to Bezos that could be interpreted in a number of ways.
“Amazon has a good chance of being the last place to buy CDs,” Jobs said. “The business will have a high but small margin. You may charge a premium for CDs, as they will be hard to find.
At the time, Amazon sold a lot of CDs, as they were small and easy to ship. Therefore, Jobs’ comment was not really a business proposition for Amazon, rather it said: We are destroying a large part of your business.
Was Jobs trying to irritate Bezos?
The authors of Working Backwards suggest that Jobs may have been trying to rile Bezos. Alternatively, it could have been “an attempt to incite Jeff to make a bad business decision by acting impulsively.” That could have prompted Bezos to immediately pitch an ill-conceived rival to iTunes.
In the end, Bezos remained calm and the rest of the meeting was uneventful. But the authors of the book believe this could have been a key step in making the creator of Amazon realize that physical sales of some products would likely disappear.
Not long after Amazon launched the Kindle, invested more in the cloud and took other steps that reduced its reliance on physical media such as books and CDs.