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How to Write an Email Like Steve Jobs

How to Write an Email Like Steve Jobs main image

As co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs transformed the tech world and is often cited as an inspirational figure for aspiring entrepreneurs and business people. Now, , it’s now possible to get a peek inside one of the greatest minds of the last 100 years.

Below is a complete copy of an email sent by Jobs in 2010 to James Murdoch, an executive at NewsCorp, the parent company of publishers HarperCollins. Jobs is trying to convince Murdoch that HarperCollins should make their e-books available through iTunes. At the time, Apple was preparing to launch the iPad and hoped to rival Amazon’s Kindle as an e-reader device.

Take a close look at the language and style of Jobs’ email, and then we’ll break it down into its key components.

The email


Our proposal does set the upper limit for ebook retail pricing based on the hardcover price of each book. The reason we are doing this is that, a reader experience selling a lot of content online, we simply don't think the ebook market can be successful with pricing higher than $12.99 or $14.99. Heck, Amazon is selling these books at $9.99, and who knows, maybe they are right and we will fail even at $12.99. But we're willing to try at the prices we've proposed. We are not willing to try at higher prices because we are pretty sure we'll all fail.

As I see it, HC has the following choices:

  1. Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.
  2. Keep going with Amazon at $9.99. You will make a bit more money in the short term, but in the medium term Amazon will tell you they will be paying you 70 percent of $9.99. They have shareholders too.
  3. Hold back your books from Amazon. Without a way for customers to buy your ebooks, they will steal them. This will be the start of piracy and once started there will be no stopping it. Trust me, I've seen this happen with my own eyes.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see any other alternatives. Do you?



What to learn from it

The first thing you’ll notice about the email is how succinct and clear it is. Jobs makes his position clear and walks Murdoch through the three potential outcomes he can envisage. Notice that he’s never talking down to his recipient, he even ends the email by asking if there are alternative options he’s missed out. Instead, the tone is conversational and collaborative, rather than confrontational. It’s easy to forget when reading this that Apple are one of the biggest companies in the world, he manages to make them still sound like a scrappy underdog taking on the big guy (Amazon) and determined to offer Murdoch a fairer price.

Another key element of the email is how easy it is to read. It can be easy to slip into poor grammar, abbreviations and sloppy spelling, especially when a message is part of a longer email chain, but Jobs avoids that trap. People will pay more attention to your emails if they’re well-structured and look like they’ve had thought put into them.

Finally, notice the little details which help keep the tone conversational. Jobs uses James Murdoch’s first name, suggesting familiarity, and also signs off with his own. The use of “Regards” helps keep the tone polite and respectful, while words or phrases like “heck” and “make a go of this” show this is a conversation between equals. Jobs isn’t lecturing or demanding, he’s just setting out his case and asking for a response.

Key things to remember in your emails

Based on this example, there are clear things you can do to improve your email correspondence and demonstrate more emotional intelligence:

  • Be personable (use first names, talk like they’re your equal)
  • Think through the structure of your email clearly
  • Encourage their input, don’t write like you’re dictating terms
  • Don’t over-write: all issues can be summed up in an email as brief as this one

After sending this email, HarperCollins agreed to Apple’s terms within two days. Channel some of that Steve Jobs magic and make your emails as impactful as his.

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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