All the things Bezos can do with WashPo

Bezos buying The Washington Post seems to have been the kind of divisive, watershed event that surprised everyone enough and enticed or infuriated everyone enough to weigh in on its pros and cons.

I’m not sure Bezos knows exactly what he wants to do with the Post yet, but if he needs inspiration, he doesn’t have to feel like he’s lacking ideas, given all the reasons that the media have offered for why he made the purchase.

Here is a round-up of some of my favorite explanations:

  • He bought the Post for its distribution network. People get their newspaper in the morning, and he is going to start distributing Amazon products with the paper. Likelihood: This seems farfetched. WashPo has scaled back their distribution network over the years, and besides, Amazon is already doing same-day delivery in the locations where it can do so. Monocle’s The Stack discusses some of this. Even if he will not use it per se, it could be a model to learn from.
  • He bought it as a lobbying-on-steroids effort, to get more clout with politicians and lawmakers in Washington (as mentioned in Time). Verdict: Even if tech companies have stepped up their lobbying efforts over the last years, and Amazon has been obsessed with sales tax legislation, this seems a round-about way of doing it. And the WashPo brand would deteriorate if Bezos applied Murdoch-style influencing over it and it ceased to be neutral.
  • It was a content play, like Netflix doing original programming. He needed more content for the Kindle, and the Post came up as a potential cheap acquisition (and the Post delivered digitally could be a nice freebie for Prime customers).
  • Since Amazon doesn’t have any news content on its own website, if they would start getting information on what news stories users like to read, Amazon could make more targeted purchase recommendations.
  • He sincerely believes in the brand, and thinks it can grow with the right investment. Even if he has earlier said that the newspaper industry will be dead in 20 years, maybe he realizes that the Post has the kind of brand that could be monetized much better in the digital space and globally.
  • He believes he can disrupt the newspaper industry, like he has done with the retail and publishing industries. By implementing some Amazon tactics such as delivering high value for very low cost to get customers hooked (BusinessWeek suggests the paywall will definitely go), new kinds of subscription models, or global replication, or any other kind of successful experimentation, he could upset the industry. HuffPo talks about Bezos’ focus on the customer and MediaWeek what that personalization could mean for an old media property such as a news organization.
  • Or if for no other reason, perhaps he did it for purely philanthropic reasons. According to BusinessWeek, he is a lover of the written word, so it might just be a case of having enough money and wanting to own a newspaper. Fast Company talks about him thinking about his legacy. But that seems slightly out of character for him, given that his other investments (Long Now clock, space exploration, etc), all have been very different in their nature. Not to mention potentially more significant for his legacy. It’s not the same as Chris Hughes buying and running the New Republic, since Bezos kind of has a day job already.

Whatever the reasons, I think we should see it as a very positive testament to the value and business opportunities in a strong news media brand. Let’s look forward to see what a newspaper with a strong brand and good financial backing can do, it’s sure been a while.

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