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Monday, August 12, 2013

Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post

Last week the media world was rocked by the sale of two major newspapers. John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox bought the Boston Globe from the New York Times. And, a bigger surprise was when Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, purchased The Washington Post for $250 million. Amazingly, in a city such as Washington where leaks are rampant, the deal was kept under wraps.

Many people have weighed in on the Post sale in the press and I have heard from friends and readers with wildly different point of view on the subject.

Here are some comments plus my spin on it:

“Bezos is a multi-billionaire and he thinks it would be fun to own the Washington Post.”--when I first saw this and then heard it all I could think of was a wonderful scene from Orson Welles film masterpiece, “Citizen Kane.” Young Charles Foster Kane bought the New York Inquirer and he sent a telegram to his narrow minded guardian ending with “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.” Well, Jeff Bezos, in my opinion, did not purchase the Post just because it would be fun. Look at his impressive track record and he probably has some plan of where to take the paper. Also, keep in mind that Bezos PERSONALLY purchased the Post. It will not be a division of Amazon.
“Bezos bought the paper to have a platform for his own political views.” I doubt it. He has promised editorial independence and I believe him. Also, he appears to be libertarian leaning with a liberal approach to social issues and a conservative stance on fiscal issues. That does not jibe at all with the current Post editorial positions.
“Bezos will make the Post profitable quickly.” All major market newspapers are struggling financially but he cannot turn the ship around immediately. My best friend made a very perceptive comment about Bezos. She said, “look at what he has done over the last 20 years. Sometimes he lost money on certain Amazon ventures but he stuck to them and succeeded over the long pull. He may get results but not immediately.” Well said! He has been both a patient and brilliant retailer.
“Bezos will make the change to 100% digital immediately.” Maybe but maybe not. He will certainly improve the Post’s digital product which is not nearly as effective as The New York Times or Wall Street Journal’s online offerings.
“The Post is not relevant in Washington as it once was. Online entries such as Politico or The Huffington Post are where insiders go for news.” There is some truth here. Today, the Post, for all its past glory, seems like a legacy media entry. He may be able to bring them in to 2013 pretty quickly.

What do I think? Well, Jeff Bezos was one of the major “disruptors” of the last 20 years. He changed the way that we shopped and maybe stretching things a bit, he changed the way that we read with Kindle. I know of no one better suited to integrate news content with commerce. He will be willing to try new things that many publishers will not nor will they think of them. Also, he is buying a property that has an expertise at home delivery just as Amazon does.
Can Jeff Bezos save the newspaper industry? Not as we know it. Yet, he can take a venerable property such as the Washington Post and help it survive and maybe prosper in a digital world.

I wish him and The Washington Post all the best.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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