After assuring themselves that it wasn’t an Onion headline, those working in the media, political and book industries began digesting the news that Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos paid $250 million to acquire The Washington Post newspaper. Although Bezos purchased the Post from his personal funds, there are few people who believe that Bezos won’t find a way for the newspaper and Amazon to work together.
There was also a consensus that Bezos’s purchase could be good for the Post. The newspaper has struggled financially in the years since the Internet has drained away readers and revenue, and even its longtime owners, the Graham family, acknowledged that the paper is in need of reinvention. Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs who, before entering book publishing worked at the Post for 18 years as a reporter and editor, said he was hopeful that Bezos will give the newspaper the resources it needs to exist in the current media landscape. “We can all hope that he will invest in the paper with money and know-how in this digital age,” Osnos said. “I certainly don’t think he will choose to diminish [the Post] but we’ll need to monitor his patience and his choice of how to exercise his ownership influence.”
It’s that potential influence over the direction of the paper that has people buzzing. As one publisher noted, ownership of the Post gives Bezos “a big bully pulpit” to further his, and Amazon’s, causes. While Bezos has maintained a low political profile, Amazon is no friend of unions (the Post is a union shop) and the company is engaged in a fight with workers at its German warehouses. On the other, hand he and his wife were one of the biggest donors to the drive to pass same-sex marriage laws in the state of Washington. Partly due to those actions, Bezos has been increasingly seen as a libertarian.
Bezos said he will concentrate on his “day job” running Amazon and leave the current Post management in place. He had little to say about how the Post will change, although he said change will come and require experimentation. Bezos has always held his strategy for Amazon close to his vest and he gave no indication that would change. Bezos did not make himself available to the media for interviews following the announcement.
As for how Amazon and the Post may work together a number of scenarios have been posited by observers. Amazon has become more aggressive about buying content and the creation of a relationship between Post columnists and reporters with Amazon Publishing is one possible move as is using the archives of the Post to create new print and digital offerings. (The Post already has a deal with Diversion Books for e-book originals). Bundling content exclusively for sale through Amazon is considered another possibility. Like most all newspapers, the Post drastically reduced its book review coverage several years ago, but upping the number of reviews is not seen as a priority.
There were also less serious synergy ideas floating around the Internet and social media following the Bezos announcement. Offering free home delivery of the Post to Prime members was one notion, while a HuffPo post, building on one of Amazon’s trademark Web services, suggested that based on his previous purchases he would also like The Orlando Sentinel, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek.
As everyone knows, the media loves covering itself and there was no shortage of stories about the Bezos-Post deal. Below, a sampling.
*This article has been corrected. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated The Washington Post has a deal with Divergent Books for e-book originals. They have a deal with Diversion Books.