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Industry News: Amazon head buys Washington Post

August 10, 2013

Bezos buys the Washington Post; what it might mean to you

In case you hadn’t heard, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos went out and bought himself a new toy this week and there’s a shiny new Washington Post in his garage. Bezos bought the newspaper and its affiliated publications from the Graham family for $250 million. Bezos is personally making the purchase, meaning that Amazon will have no role in the newspaper’s operations. The newspaper had been owned by the Graham family since 1946.

The Post ran its BookWorld section from 1972 until 2009, when it was discontinued, though it still publishes book reviews. Work by investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered much of the scandal around the 1972 Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up that resulted in the resignation of President Nixon on 1974. The book All the President’s Men was based on their reporting and is considered perhaps the finest investigative reporting of all time.

What this means to you: Although Amazon will not be part of the Post‘s command structure, the company is built on Bezos’ vision. It’s hard to image that he won’t bring some significant changes to paper based on his Amazon experience, particularly when he’s on the record as saying that no one would pay for news online in 20 years and that printed newspapers would be dead by that time. This isn’t something Bezos said a long time before he decided to make his purchase–he said it last year.

In an age in which printed newspapers face shrinking circulation bases–the Post is down to 462,228 in 2012 from 582,844 in 2009–Bezos is likely to change the business model in search of new revenue, though his approach may not including a continuation of the paywall the paper put up, charging a fee for access after 20 articles in a month.

Some analysts expect Bezos to increase the paper’s emphasis on online delivery, potentially adapting a Netflix-like approach, with a streaming service adapts to customers’ desires by pushing a news feed based on what they read. Ads would potentially be delivered the same way. Others see a potential increase in social media outlets, such as Twitter. Others believe Bezos will increase the paper’s national and international focus, to better compete with digital editions of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. And it would surprise no one if readers got a better Post experience by reading it on a Kindle.

So what? Big deal. I write short stories or books, not newspaper articles.

It is potentially a big deal in many ways. First, Amazon’s becoming well known for its sharp elbows and business practices some consider predatory. At this point, the Department of Justice has not chosen to pay serious attention to the company, but the current President is term-limited after 2016, and the current favorite to replace him–former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton–was part of a White House that pursued anti-trust action against Microsoft 20 years ago. A Bezos newspaper in Washington, the place where anti-trust reviews originate, isn’t a bad investment.

More to the point, though, Bezos is like to try a number of new ideas to increase sales of his paper–and those ideas may be the genesis of ideas that rub off on book sales. In an industry where the stunning increase in percentage of ebook sales is starting to level off, publishers–and Amazon is a publisher, as well as a book seller–are likely to look anyplace they can for ideas to spur sales.

Finally, Amazon has purchased GoodReads. Some sort of integration between that service and the Post‘s book reviews would be a natural fit once Bezos gets his bearings.

No matter what, this story bears watching, even if you aren’t from Washington and you don’t read newspaper.



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