Amazon founder and renowned billionaire Jeff Bezos has paid out US$ 250 million in order to buy the WashingtonPost, a move that could be a blessing for the Post, or a curse for its new owner.
How to Buy Influence and Disrupt Washington
If ever there were a way to quickly interject oneself into the political realm of the US capitol, buying Washington DC's sole daily newspaper is surely the most, um, headline grabbing way. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who 20 years ago set out to disrupt the book selling industry, has now turned the beltway inside out with his bold move to snap up one of the most sanctified news organizations in the world.
Owned by the Graham family since the 1930s, the Washington Post had seen declining revenues for nearly a decade, and the family apparently felt it couldn't do any more to save the paper. By selling to Bezos, there's a chance the paper could have a better chance at long term solvency, but it still raises plenty of questions about why Bezos ultimately dove into one of the US' most turbulent industries.
The deal was not made by Amazon, it should be noted, but a private affair led by Bezos himself. He's already told the Post staff that he is completely happy running Amazon right now, and the publishing team and editorial staff will remain in place. That's a fine how do you do, but it's his paper now, and if he has a long term plan for it as far as gaining influence for himself in Washington DC, he's not letting on about it yet.
Bezos bought up only the Washington Post newspaper, and not other properties owned by the Washington Post Co. like Slate or Foreign Policy. Even the building the paper resides in will stay with the Washington Post Co.
Vanity Project or Sly Business Move?
Whether or not Bezos is getting into politics remains to be seen, but he is an outspoken supporter of gay marriage, for example. He's also donated money to a handful of political candidates, and the Amazon foundation has donated to both democrats and republicans over the years. Beyond that, Bezos' political ideals aren't widely known, so if he does take the Washington Post on a more editorial bent, we just don't know which way he'll lean.
To be sure, no one saw this move coming, and headlines across the country read as the Bezos deal being quite a surprise. Not that rich men buying big businesses is all that unusual, it's just the newspaper industry hasn't quite figured out where it stands in the fast moving digital world. Of course, Bezos might just be the man to help the Post find its way at least.
Will he turn it into a digital only publication? Perhaps he'll strip it down and make it into his own soapbox for whatever issues he's truly passionate about. We already know Amazon is the king of slim business margins, so making money shouldn't be an issue for the Post. Additionally, even though Amazon is not involved in the deal officially, it would counterintuitive for the company not to get involved in some way eventually.
While a surprising move overall for Bezos, many commentators see quite a bit of positive in the deal. Perhaps he is the man for the job after all. He's already said he's staying in Seattle for the time being, so a steady hand away from the nutty inside politics world of DC may be a powerful salve for the creaky old Post.
Ever the outspoken one, Aaron Levie of Box cracked wise about the deal on Twitter when it was announced.
"Silion Valley's first reaction: WTF is Bezos thinking," Levie wrote.
"Silion Valley's second reaction: What's our startup's newspaper strategy?"
The Economist called Bezos an old-media savior on Facebook, and media watchdog Tim O'reilly also liked the deal, saying in a tweet it was good for the newspaper industry. Brad Stone, who's written a book about Bezos and his rise to power with Amazon, tweeted he thought Bezos was buying lots of political influence.
Dan Sinker, the director of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, posted on a CNN Opinon page that he thinks Bezos could be a great leader for the Post, citing his track record with Amazon, and specifically with Amazon Web Services.
Leadership is all too rare in the journalism industry, Sinker wrote, and that may have changed with the Bezos buy. That certainly could be true, but the kind of media spotlight about to be on Bezos now is going to be intense. Media critics are the hardest on themselves, and every single move made by the Post in the next two years will be endlessly scrutinized.
It should be a fun ride, and when Bezos kills the print edition of the Post - and he will - that's when things will get interesting. Our only question is, when will the Koch brothers finally buy the Los Angeles Times?