REINVENT THE PAPER
It is impossible to believe that Jeff Bezos has bought it to generate profits. Its revenue has fallen for seven successive years. Operating profits have plunged from US$125.4 million in 2005 to a loss of US$53.7 million last year. The prospects for newsprint, as new media entrepreneurs such as Bezos know only too well, are gloomy. However, this is the first time a leading digital figure has taken charge of an old mainstream media organization. Maybe he has the magic solution.
MAKE MONEY FROM WEB
It is hardly a stretch to imagine that he will set out to popularise and, most importantly, commercialize the Washington Post’s Web site. Some commentators have suggested he might introduce e-commerce to every page of the Post. He knows the value of having intimate knowledge of every Amazon customer’s desires, then “helping” them to fulfil them with the power of suggestive
e-mail recommendations. He could he do the same for the Post’s readers.
Continuing the theme of what Amazon (and Bezos) does best, such as the invention and marketing of its Kindle e-reader, it’s possible to imagine that the Washington Post could be the default news app on every Kindle. However, that raises a much more fundamental question: Is the Post worth promoting across the US — and the rest of the world for that matter — as the go-to news service? The paper has tended to live off its 1972 Watergate laurels, although that is not to say it has not published excellent journalism since.
If Bezos sets his mind to it, he could transform the Post’s fortunes by forging it into a paper with appeal from east coast to west coast, online and in print. If so, it will need to up its editorial game. Cross-promotion between Amazon and the Post could prove beneficial. And Amazon’s “physical delivery system” is wonderfully efficient. No wonder Washington Post business reporter Lydia DePillis believes that a Bezos-owned Post — even an unprofitable one, a sort of loss-leader if you like — could “complement and amplify other regions of Amazonia.”
Run it as a public service.
If we put commercial considerations to one side, it’s plausible to see Bezos’s purchase as an act of philanthropy. As Emily Bell of the Tow centre for digital journalism at Columbia Journalism School has argued, there are wealthy men who, fearing the demise of old media, believe journalism “still constitutes a benefit to society.”