“This means putting the Post in the hands of a wealthy individual who can take as long as he needs and spend as much money as he wishes in keeping the paper strong.”
— Rick Edmonds, media and business analyst at The Poynter Institute, on the news that Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post, the newspaper that’s rich in history — Watergate— but short on revenue and profit.
Speaking of rich, Bezos is. His net worth, according to Forbes, is more than $25 billion. And he’s largely considered a visionary — the person whose company transformed selling old stuff (books) and forever changed retail. (Did we mention he has a space company, too? And invested $42 million in a clock.) Because of this, much of the reaction about his purchase of the Post is similar to the quote above.
Paul Saffo, Silicon Valley forecaster:
He reinvented book selling at a time when everyone thought books were dead. He invented the e-book when everyone thought it was impossible. And his whole career has been making a fortune by breaking the rules that everyone thought you should never break.
Alan Mutter, former newspaper executive:
His success in building Amazon from a garage start-up to a $136 billion behemoth suggests that he is intellectually, emotionally and financially liberated from the obeisance to print that constrains the thinking of traditional newspaper executives.
Some view the move as a charitable thing. Others say Bezos is no philanthropist, he’s a businessman through and through — albeit a patient one. And bundled with Bezos’ purchase of the Post is political influence, says journalist Brad Stone, author of an upcoming book about Bezos and Amazon (which he’s now furiously having to update).
Ken Doctor, publishing analyst, is quoted in a New York Times’ DealBook post about the wealthy collecting newspapers as trophies:
These deals don’t make financial sense… (The Washington Post purchase) is a combination of good will and real estate. I mean good will in the moral sense, not the financial sense.
Bezos and Post CEO and Chairman Donald Graham said Monday that “no layoffs are contemplated” as a result of the deal. But saying “anyone cracking open the champagne in anticipation of the return of wealth to journalism should read” it, the Guardian points to Bezos’ first letter to Amazon shareholders, which includes:
We will work hard to spend wisely and maintain our lean culture. We understand the importance of
continually reinforcing a cost-conscious culture, particularly in a business incurring net losses.
Related to being business-minded, here’s a quick summary about Amazon and politics and policy: Amazon for a long time has fought against collecting state sales taxes, although it yielded last year in some states including California. Its warehouse employees have complained of unbearable working conditions. As for Bezos’ personal political views, the New Republic says they’re hard to pin down — and that they may not matter if he keeps his vow to allow the Washington Post to operate independently.
Finally, for those who care what might Bezos do with the newspaper, crystal balls everywhere are getting a workout. But first, a word from those who point out that Amazon and other Internet companies have contributed greatly to old media’s challenges and decline. (Or, as Bezos put it: “The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources…”)
James Fallows, for the Atlantic:
Let us hope that this is what the sale signifies: the beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence. We hope it marks a beginning, because we know it marks an end.
Alec MacGillis, for the New Republic:
We knew the other guys had won a long time ago, but it’s another thing when they can waltz in and, in the charmless guise of “Explore Holdings LLC,” drop $250 million in cash for a legendary paper.
Back to the predictions. Again from Mutter, who’s mentioned above:
Why couldn’t every Kindle in the future be shipped with a free trial subscription to the Washington Post?
And Henry Blodget of Business Insider, in which Bezos has invested, goes further. Like others, he says: The newspaper will benefit from the fact that Amazon not only has its Kindle e-readers, it has Prime subscribers who consume movies and music and books online — about whom Amazon has a wealth of data, by the way — and order stuff to be delivered to their door. Speaking of physically delivering things, might the Washington Post arrive with anything Amazon ships? Now there would be a boost for circulation.
Digital news and e-commerce businesses can be something that no traditional competitor can be: infinitely broad and infinitely deep.
Photo: The front page of the Washington Post today. (AFP/Getty Images)