Bezos’s hard charge into the great unknown
Jeff Bezos knows two things that won’t save newspapers: Advertisers and paywalls. Bezos is aware that ads and paid content are the only two ways that newspapers make money these days. The Amazon founder and new Washington Post owner believes that newspapers need to find a third way, a mechanism for profitably delivering the news that doesn’t exist yet. So the job of Jeff Bezos, Professional Rich Guy, will primarily consist of throwing money at one of the nation’s leading newspapers until it innovates its way into a reliable revenue stream.
The Post interviews its new owner today, and Bezos is remarkably frank about the fact that he has no idea how his new $250 million toy is going to make any money. Bezos is worth roughly $24 billion, so he can buy a financially troubled newspaper as easily as most folks call out for pizza delivery. That financial capacity should come in handy, since Bezos primarily sees his role at the Post as providing a “runway” of financial support until the paper figures out how to make the news business profitable. He’s clear that he doesn’t intend to relocate from Seattle to Washington and start dictating business decisions to Marty Baron and Katharine Weymouth and company. Instead, he’s going to give them time and money to experiment.
“In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort,” Bezos tells the Post. “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.”
Bezos tells the Post that he wants to bring an Amazon approach to the paper: “Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” He’s not sure what that experimentation will entail, and it’s almost beside the point. The most revealing part of the Post interview is that Bezos thinks both of the two ways American newspapers fund themselves are fundamentally broken.
The New York Times has the country’s highest profile paywall. Paid access has put a floor under the paper’s plummeting revenues, but it hasn’t been a money-maker. The Times paywall only counts as a success if its goal was to slow the rate at which paper bleeds out. Paywalls don’t work, Bezos tells the Post, because they’re antithetical to the news business. Whatever one news organization locks behind a password, another will publish for free. “The Post is famous for its investigative journalism,” he says. “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.”
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A Republican editorial notes that Smith and Wesson continues to flourish as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department selects a pistol produced by the Springfield gun manufacturer to issue to its officers.
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Somerville is reeling from the arrest of three teens in connections with alleged sexual assaults at a pre-season camp in the Berkshires for Somerville High School athletes.MEDIA
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