Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post

Summary: However, Amazon as a company will play no role in the deal.

SHARE:

Jeff Bezos just made a rather hefty purchase. The CEO and founder of Amazon has bought The Washington Post.

The D.C. newspaper confirmed the news in a report on Monday afternoon. Bezos followed up with his own statement, addressed to "To the employees of The Washington Post."

While emphasizing that he has no intention of making dramatic leadership changes or moving to the District from "the other Washington," here's a snippet hinting at a long-term agenda:

There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.

Bezos is paying approximately $250 million in cash for The Post as well as affiliated publications within the Washington Post Co. portfolio.

The deal is expected to be completed within the next two months.

The move is arguably a surprise to many in both the technology and media worlds.

For starters, Bezos has no history running a newspaper or similar news media organization.

But based on the report from the Post itself, apparently Amazon as a company will not have any active role or influence over the venerable news outlet.

If and when the deal goes through, Bezos will be the sole owner of the Washington Post Company, replacing the Graham family.

The Washington Post Company's chief executive officer Donald Graham acknowledged financial and circulation declines in an interview with the Post.

He also admitted that selling to Bezos doesn't guarantee "success but it gives us a much greater chance of success."

Management and operation of the Washington Post is expected to continue business-as-usual -- at least for the near future.

Topics: Tech Industry, Amazon, Cloud, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

14 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Last man standing?

    A couple of decades ago the New York Times went on a buying spree, purchasing regional newspapers around the country. The Internet was still in its relative infancy and the purchases seemed to make sense at the time. Fast forward to today and the Times has been slowly divesting itself of these purchases at a huge loss. The most recent example was the Boston Globe, which the Times sold for a mere $70 million, down from the $1.1 billion the Times paid for the newspaper. Actually, the loss is even worse than what would appear at first glance. The Times sold the Globe for $70 million, but assumed $110 million in pension liabilities, meaning that the New York Times actually paid the new owners $40 million to take the Globe off their hands.

    Given these stark realities, it's a wonder why anyone would buy into these properties? I can really only see a few potential reasons: 1) a wealthy billionaire who buys the paper as a vanity purchase and to turn it into a mouthpiece for his personal political agenda. This is pretty easy to accomplish. Opinions are cheap to produce, much cheaper than actual reporting. You don't need a correspondent in Beirut to churn out right-wing platitudes. And for content, you've got plenty of wealthy pals who'll be all to happy for you to run their latest press release, only slightly altered. So you buy the paper, fire most of the staff, and you've got your own World Net Daily with a far more recognizable and venerable name on the front page.

    2) The other reason to buy the paper is under the theory that once the great journalistic shakeout takes place and most newspapers fold, there will still be a market for Newspapers. As long as the paper you own has managed to weather Newspocalypse and is still around, you've got a reasonable shot at owning a profitable enterprise. This is the "last man standing" theory of the newspaper market and a large part of the reason why the staff at the New York Times haven't yet crawled on to the ledge of their offices and jumped. I'd say the New York Times has about a 90% chance of surviving the shakeout. It's probably the most venerated paper in this country, and internationally respected. The Washington Post comes in second, I'd say. If I had to gamble on a second paper surviving the shakeout, the Post would be high on my list.
    dsf3g
    • Can't agree

      There are newspapers that are doing exceedingly well, small town newspapers. People like to read about people they know and the things going on at the very local level. I pay to have my (small) home town paper mailed to me for that very reason. Now if he can capture that somehow and leverage it at scale it would, in my opinion, be a home run.

      Internet delivery is of course possible along with a printed version. He could even allow users to draw a simple map around their home and designate it as "local" to them and get all interest stories from nearby neighbors. (Suzy is graduating, Bob is running the street sweeper Monday night, Bingo is next Saturday, etc. etc.)
      NoAxToGrind
  • $250 million is a lot of money for a "vanity" purchase, so,

    let's rule that out.

    Then, as a personal tool to advocate for personal political causes? No, that would be very foolish and dumb, since most people, even the dumb, would see the stupidity for what it is.

    BTW, "right wing platitudes"? Why not "left-wing" platitudes, since that's what most newspapers are known to do in recent history, including the Washington Post and NY Times.

    Now, I see a hint of where Bezos might be seeing the value of a "recognizable" and sometimes respected newspaper such as the Washington Post. The hint is in this phrase in his comments to the Post's staff: "...some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs". There it is. The idea is to try to keep the paper as a news and information gathering organization, most of which will be "free" and/or low-cost, and then present that content in the printed paper and online. That would give the Bezos huge savings, immediately after the paid reporters and columnists and editors start getting the hint that, they're not needed so much anymore. Those reporters and columnists could become contributors, but not as paid staffers.

    I could be wrong, but it's the only way that the Post can survive in today's world where news is mostly consumed online. Otherwise, Bezos was simply buying a toy to elevate his visibility.
    adornoe@...
    • Hmmm, not convinced.

      While there is quasi news on the internet it's quality is, well there is a lot to be desired. I don't see many internet news reporters / bloggers winning a Pulitzer.
      NoAxToGrind
      • You're not looking hard enough, and you're looking at the wrong things to

        begin with.

        The same reporters that work for newspapers and magazines, also have their work published on the internet. Any reporter that does print media exclusively, is living in the past, so, if you look hard enough you should be able to find their work on the internet.

        Furthermore, the vast majority of reporters never have, and never will, earn Pulitzer prizes, but that doesn't mean that their work is of less quality than that of the winners of those prizes. In fact, I'd dare to say that the best reporters ever, have not won a Pulitzer. Pulitzers are often awarded because of a particular piece which appealed to those who judge before awarding the prizes, so, I wouldn't put too much weight on the prize. I wouldn't put too much value on Pulitzers to begin with, since they are mostly, and almost strictly, awarded to those on the left side of the political spectrum, which makes the awarding of the prize a partisan decision. To me, a Pulitzer has as much meaning as the Nobel peace prize, which was awarded 5 years ago to Obama, a nobody who had never done anything to merit the award, and in the five years since, he has proven that decision to have been one of the stupidest ever.

        Most people who are doing reporting now, have never gotten a degree in journalism, but, their reporting is as good or better than most who did get that degree.
        adornoe
    • platitudes

      If you venture beyond the editorial pages of most major newspapers then you venture beyond the world of platitudes, left or right. That's why these organizations are expensive to run. Whether it be the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal (papers whose Op. Ed. pages are ideologically incompatible) , hit the hard news sections and you've got real investigative reporting going on, and that costs money.
      dsf3g
      • Sorry, but you coouldn't be more wrong...

        What you find in the NY Times and Washington Post and even in the Wall Street Journal, are not unbiased or non-ideological reporting. There is just too much reporting in those papers which is not tainted by the personal biases of the reporters and from the editorial staff. The Wall Street Journals may be owned by NewsCorp, but there are still a lot of reporters who taint their reporting with a left-wing view. The NY Times and Wash Post are not known for their journalistic integrity, and most people have come to expect highly partisan and left-leaning views within the main reporting pages and columns.

        Reporting is supposed to be non-judgmental and non-partisan, and non-ideological. The NY Times and Wash. Post fail in that criteria.
        adornoe
        • correction to the above:

          This:

          "There is just too much reporting in those papers which is not tainted by the personal biases of the reporters and from the editorial staff."

          Should read:

          ""There is just too much reporting in those papers which is tainted by the personal biases of the reporters and from the editorial staff."
          adornoe
  • What is the plan ?

    news paper will die sooner or later.
    what is amazon plan with this purchase ?
    why they did not build from new ?
    Utomo Prawiro
    • Amazon did not purchase the newspaper.

      Read the article.
      adornoe
  • Missing the Point

    I feel that this buy has huge potential, especially for someone like Amazon that needs to continue to move from a HUGE shopping centre into a MEDIA company producing CONTENT.. heck, they already provide music, video, etc... .
    Yes , Newspapers in PRINT VERSION are going down.. but READERSHIP of NEWS is actually booming... so it is Amazon's tech gravitas and knowledge that I think can help a paper like Washington Post achieve the next level in digital.... As long as it doesn't become some weak and hard-bias publication, keep an eye on Amazon...
    Sydand
  • He's trying to help Amazon

    If he can bring enough talent (and money) to the table, they have a shot of figuring out how to move a newspaper organization into the 21st century. If they do that, Amazon can basically franchise that around the world, and own that big news content creator, for delivery by Kindle, Amazon Instant, etc. They could co-opt newspapers, tv news, cable news, etc.

    And if they can't figure it out, $250 million isn't going to kill him.
    vineel@...
  • What is the difference between an editorial endorsement and a political ad?

    What is the difference between an editorial endorsement or slanted news story and a political ad?

    Since the passage of the Federal Campaign Act after Watergate, campaign laws have been used to abridge the right of citizens and citizens groups attempting to address their grievances with government.

    "The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy." - From Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy by Alex Carey

    “It is normal for all large businesses to make serious efforts to influence the news, to avoid embarrassing publicity, and to maximize sympathetic public opinion and government policies. Now they own most of the news media that they wish to influence.” - from The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian

    Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. But politicians exempted the commercial press, because the 1st Amendment prohibits abridging their freedom of speech and the press.

    Giant media corporations are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money influencing the political process because their political communications are said to have no value.

    But, since Watergate, campaign regulations based on the definitions of expenditure and contribution restrict the speech and press rights of every U.S. Citizen political party and organization.

    The main stream media already enjoy superior means to influence politics. To level the playing field, the language of the Press Exemption must be amended to include ‘citizens and groups’ in the unregulated class.

    Currently, only State approved media corporations are exempt from campaign laws: 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) exempts newspaper, broadcast and magazine corporations from the definition of contribution and expenditure. The Buckley v. Valeo decision, which upheld these reforms, effectively redefined free press as the right of media corporations!

    To restore citizens 1st Amendment rights and return the Federal Government to Constitutionally proscribed boundaries, Call your Senators and Congressman and demand they add ‘citizens and citizen’s groups’ to the language of the press exemption.

    For a short term solution, conservative groups should consider incorporating as media periodicals to circumvent most unconstitutional campaign laws, rather than applying to the IRS for non-profit status to avoid a few.
    FreePress
  • Long term gamble

    Large Internet properties (of which there are only a few - Google, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo etc) need to draw eyeballs to their offerings. Unique and compelling services, and unique and compelling content can both serve. Yahoo is actually ahead of the pack in the news department.

    I see Jeff as seeing this as a real gamble, so he is betting his own money so he can fully control his vision without the baggage and short term interests of Amazon to get in the way. Long term, he is betting that the type of content a news organization like the WP can bring to the table will be well worth the (minimal) cost. He can - at some point, sell his investment to Amazon and make a bundle when the concept is proven.
    dimonic