The best explanation of today’s announcement that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post comes from the Post’s own story of the deal…
Throughout his storied business career, Bezos, who has a net worth of $25.2 billion, has been an empire builder, although he has never shown any evident interest in the newspaper business. He has, however, maintained a long friendship with [Washington Post CEO Donald] Graham, and they have informally advised each other over the years. Graham, for example, advised Bezos about how to feature newspapers on the Kindle, Amazon’s popular e-reader.
The purchase is personal: the Amazon company is not directly involved and the newspaper will be privately held by Bezo’s alone. With no Wall Street analysts to please, he will be free to experiment . The end result, though, is likely to see digital content merged into Amazon’s Kindle and online media platforms.
Bezos is getting both the online and dead tree versions of the Washington Post, along with some affiliated local and spanish language papers and production facilities. Slate and other online properties will stay with the Graham family.
Presumably, he’s also getting the intellectual property rights to the vast store of content created by the Post since its founding in 1877. That plus the future output of a news gathering organisation with 2,000 employees is a solid foundation for experimenting with digital distribution of news and information.
I’m sure there’s something to the speculation that Bezos is buying the Post out of a sense of civic responsibility, but I hope that’s not his primary motivation. He can do a lot more for the cause of good journalism and speaking truth to power by, once again, making it a highly profitable business.