Monday, August 5, 2013

Bezos and the Washington Post

So Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post.

Interesting. But it seems like a good fit for this quixotic figure whose mind's inner machinations are an enigma. His has shaken up the retail industry while losing gobs of money – the losing gobs of money is likely to continue as he ventures into journalism.

So what’s his game?
Bezos likes to be an industry-shaker.
Here’s what the Washington Post itself says about the sale:
Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days.
And here’s Bezos on Bezos, per the WP:
“I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan. This will be uncharted terrain and it will require experimentation. There would be change with or without new ownership. But the key thing I hope people will take away from this is that the values of The Post do not need changing. The duty of the paper is to the readers, not the owners.”
The sale, interestingly, includes a spate of smaller newspapers in the greater Washington area, a printing plant which publishes several military-oriented titles, and Not included in the sale are Foreign Policy,, the company’s headquarters in Washington and other property the company owns in and around Washington.
Part of me wonders if this is just the beginning of a long-term trend of flagship papers being bought by eccentrics who have money to burn (note the Boston Globe was purchased last week by the owner of the Red Sox baseball team for $70 million, considerably less than the $250 million Bezos is paying for the WP. Warren Buffet is also dabbling in papers, and Wisconsin’s Koch brothers have toyed with buying the LA Times. The eccentrics will either continue their eccentricities or turn the papers into political engines (well, more political than they are currently, obviously).
But a bigger part of me just assumes some journalistic/journalism public service arfhebung is now in the making.
Bezos, via Amazon, thumbed his nose at traditional publishing, selling ebooks at bargain-basement prices and forcing Apple and the publishing houses into an embarrassing price-fixing scandal. Amazon is now a publisher. Amazon is willing to take risks that impact profitability in order to experiment. Amazon has Amazon Prime – a potential paywall model to end all paywall models (though I haven’t succumbed. Yet).
Interesting newsie reactions gathered here by Poynter. Last one is the most laughable: Bezos won’t need WaPoLabs – he’s a lab himself. And will hire top men to study journalism now. Top men.

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