For the past few weeks, I've observed the blizzard of stories devoted to Jeff Bezos' acquisition of The Washington Post for $250 million. Everyone seems to be wondering the same thing as me: Why did he do it?
Maybe, in the end, it does't really matter why. Perhaps, ultimately, we will look back on this seismic media moment and just say: Thank you. Let's hope so.
Bezos seems like the right profile of an entrepreneur who is poised to make an impact on the stodgy media industry,which has notably failed to innovate (until it had a gun pressed to its head). Bezos seems to have a lot of fun defying the conventional wisdom. Many people shuddered to think that a capitalist like him is now running the paper that thrived during the Watergate scandal.
A smart, daring, internet-savvy visionary like Bezos is actually the perfect new owner.
Bezos bought the asset independently of his Amazon CEO title, which gives him the freedom to innovate away from the glare of Wall Street. He can now swing and miss and swing again -- in other words, Bezos can try different approaches to delivering powerful content.
I suspect that he will not try to tamper much with the day to day reporting at the Post (although, what if ...say, the Justice Dept. looks askance at Amazon -- now THAT would be an interesting scenario).
He has too much to do than to worry about how the Post covered a local murder or a Washington Wizards game or a show at the Kennedy Center. Plus, he probably wouldn't get a kick out of the newsroom side of the Post company.
Bezos may well eventually conclude that printing a daily newspaper is a losing game. I expect him to bring a new energy to the online business. Bezos is applauded for being an Internet visionary, who sees trends developing before his brick and mortar competitors. Just ask the good folks who worked for Borders about it.
Further, Bezos doesn't seem like the kind of entrepreneur who plays it safe. When he spots an opportunity, he goes for it. Maybe he will decide that the Post should predominately be an Internet product and gradually reduce the visibility of the traditional newspaper as we now know it.
Who can predict what kinds of partners Bezos will work with -- I sure can't.
There was no doubt an element of a vanity play in his purchase. Citizen Kane reminds us that it should be fun to own a newspaper, and command all of that power, prestige and status overnight. He is the new Prince of the Beltway.
Bezos has been mum on his strategy and outlook, which makes sense. Above all, Post fans and employees and shareholders can take comfort in knowing that Bezos is a winner.
It will be fun to watch him at work now. I wish I could work for him and help him save the industry.
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