Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos scooped up the Washington Post for a measly $250 million last month and did so with a pretty good understanding of what he is up against. In a Tuesday interview with his new acquisition, the multi-billionaire made clear that, when it comes to spending money to turn things around, his patience is not infinite and the status quo is a non-starter: “It’s important for The Post not just to survive, but to grow,” he said. “No business can continue to shrink. That can only go on for so long before irrelevancy sets in.”
Bezos also said, “The product of The Post is still great. The piece that’s missing is that it’s a challenged business.”
Leaving aside the argument over the Post’s so-called greatness, what is interesting is that Bezos sees the Post’s primary problem as a form of plagiarism, where other online sites are able to instantly swoop in and steal something in which the Post has invested money and time. This business model is not something in which Bezos is willing to invest money:
The Post is famous for its investigative journalism. It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it. . . . Even behind a paywall [digital subscription], Web sites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, “Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free’ from another site?”
It is interesting that Bezos sees what most of us would describe as “linking” and a post going “viral” as a negative. This phenomenon is what draws eyeballs and relevance.
To save the Post, Bezos has no plan other than to come up with one:
In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort. There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don’t know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. “Quickly” in my mind would be years.
“Years” doesn’t sound like very much time.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC