Will Jeff Bezos reshape the world of print?
It is yet to be seen if Bezos can turn around the fate of The Washington Post because his acquisition comes at a time when the global print industry is in the doldrums
It has been tough going for print media enterprises in the era of rising inflation, high printing costs and changing reading habits, where readers prefer reading newspapers and magazines online instead of buying them in print. Where this means a shift in the trends of newspaper/magazine publishing, it also means a demise of the print media empires that came into existence in the early and mid-1900s. One such example is that of Newsweek, which after selling print copies for nearly 80 years, decided to go online in 2012. Another example is that of The Washington Post, which reached its pinnacle of success under the Graham family. Recently, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon shocked the world by buying The Washington Post, ending the Graham family’s 80-year control over the newspaper.
Interestingly, Bezos has not made this deal as the CEO of Amazon but as an individual, and he will own The Washington Post as a separate entity from Amazon. However, since print media is slowly becoming obsolete, Bezos will eventually integrate The Washington Post with Amazon Kindle and make it available for everyone across the world. Commenting on his purchase, Bezos said, “I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, DC, and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change. Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of the Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.” It seems that Jeff Bezos, with The Washington Post at his side that he bought for $ 250 million in cash, will give The New York Times a run for its money.
The Washington Post had its humble origins in Washington when Stilson Hutchins, an American newspaper reporter and publisher, laid its foundation in 1877. In 1916, after the death of The Washington Post’s owner, John Roll McLean, his son Edward McLean took over. Unfortunately, Edward could not do justice to his new role and the newspaper became a liability with recurring losses.
It was in 1933 that Eugene Meyer, the fifth president of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve, bought The Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction. Meyer believed in his purchase and brought life into the newspaper at a time when public opinion was that the newspaper would not yield any profit to him. He eventually reinstated The Washington Post’s credibility and it was because of Meyer’s decision that it is is still one of the leading newspapers in the US, which enjoys a daily circulation of nearly 474,760 copies. Jeff Bezos’ decision is akin to that of Eugene Meyer, as both bought the newspaper when it was not a profitable venture. Although The Washington Post is one of the top ten US newspapers, it experienced an operating loss of nearly $ 22.6 million in 2012 due to a fall in print advertising. It is yet to be seen if Bezos can turn around the fate of The Washington Post because his acquisition comes at a time when the global print industry is in the doldrums.
However, it is for sure that Bezos, who the world regards as one of the most influential digital entrepreneurs, has calculated the risks involved and the return he will get. Furthermore, this deal will bring a revolution in the global print media, as it is for the first time that a digital entrepreneur, running an online retail business, has bought a print publication. Although Jeff Bezos has not revealed his plans, it is clear that a print evolution is right around the corner.
According to sources, Jeff Bezos has a former Amazon employee, Vijay Ravindran, working at The Washington Post. Currently serving as the newspaper’s chief digital officer, Ravindran is a former Amazon manager, who was part of the team that launched the Amazon Prime shipping programme in 2005. It seems that the opportunity for The Washington Post and Amazon to work together is in the bag; however, what role Amazon’s former digital head will play under Bezos’ leadership is yet to be seen.
It was a significant moment for the world of print when Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post. For years, print publications have been gradually turning themselves into online ventures because of inflation and a shift in reading habits. With The Washington Post now under Bezos’ command, other major US publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal would need to rethink their future strategy: whether they need to continue in print and experience some losses, re-launch their print publication with a renewed brand positioning or transfer their existing print publications onto the digital world.
The writer is a freelance columnist for various English dailies. He tweets @omariftikhar