The New Newspaper Tycoon
Jeff Bezos, Mr. Amazon, stunned us all by purchasing the Washington Post. It's hard to imagine just what he has in mind for the venerable publication, but Michael Hiltzig has a few ideas.
Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com whose $250-million purchase of the Washington Post was announced Monday, is just the latest in a string of billionaires who have taken up or expanded their newspaper holdings this year.
Only days ago the commodity trader and Red Sox team owner John W. Henry bought the Boston Globe, which had been put on the block by New York Times Co., for a paltry $70 million. (The New York Times had purchased the Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993.) Earlier this summer Warren Buffett added the Atlantic City Press to his company's holdings of 30 medium and small newspapers.
And a number of billionaires were said to have been circling around Tribune Co.'s newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, until the company put the papers' sale on hold last month.
But Bezos' play may be the most intriguing. Bezos, who is buying the Post personally, outside of Amazon's corporate structure, hasn't said what his goals or intentions are; in an open letter to Post employees he declared, "The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper's duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads."
But he also observed that "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.... Charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment." ...
Bezos is one business owner who has shown he's not averse to giving up profits, at least for some lengthy period, while aiming for much greater gains in the future. The challenge he faces with the Washington Post, and the goals he may have set for himself as a newspaper magnate in the digital world, might be encompassed by another line from "Citizen Kane": "It's no trick to make a lot of money … if all you want is to make a lot of money." [Emphasis added]
It's the experimentation which will bear watching. Will Fred Hiatt and his stable of op-ed scribblers continue without any change? Will the journalists continue their stenographic ways?
This is going to be interesting to watch as the real story unfolds.
Labels: Free Press