A Newspaper In Every Package

The announcement of the sale of the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos is the undisputed top news story among Washingtonians today. And it’s interesting (and probably a good sign) that the bulk of the public commentary and speculation is at WaPo itself.

The most interesting speculation is over the significance of Bezos’ acquisition of one of a very small handful of viable “legacy” newspapers for the journalism and publishing biz, assuming, as it is safe to assume, that the purchase was part of Bezos’ overall strategy for building his core business via Amazon and not some unrelated “vanity project” or “hobby” like the purchase of a sports team. At Wonkblog, Lydia DePillis suggests two very different possible directions for Bezos.

“He can just make The Washington Post the default app on every Kindle,” [media wizard Alan] Mutter says. That would give the paper a visibility advantage few other news outlets can claim…..

It’s tempting to think that because Bezos created an online juggernaut that has eviscerated legacy industries, he would quickly dispatch with the Post‘s print product. But Amazon is also probably the most efficient physical delivery system the world has seen, and print advertisements still generate a lot of the Post‘s revenue. He could put a print copy in every package, and have a circulation of millions.

The common themes of most commentary are that (1) Bezos has the resources and the audacity to do big and decisive things for and through WaPo, and (2) the idea that he’s thinking separately about Amazon and WaPo is inconceivable. He may leave WaPo’s leadership in place for the time being, but the context in which it is operating is very likely to change significantly (which, of course, is likely to produce leadership changes later on). As DePillis says:

[T]he Post doesn’t need to generate revenue like it’s supposed to have done for its whole life (and largely failed, propped up by a lucrative test prep business). Instead, it can complement and amplify other regions of Amazonia. “We’re in a post-profit era for newspapers,” Mutter says, noting the not-entirely-economic reasons behind recent rich guy purchases of the Globe and the San Diego Union-Tribune, not to mention the Koch brothers’ interest in the L.A. Times.

We still don’t know what the Post means for Bezos. But it could very well be one piece of a much larger profit puzzle.

Story of our lives, eh?

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.