When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acquired the Washington Post last August, one of the go-to jokes was that Amazon would soon be including copies of the newspaper in Amazon delivery boxes.
Today’s news isn’t that, but it’s close: The Post will soon offer access to its website to subscribers of other newspapers, a possible stepping stone to extending access to Amazon Prime members.
The Financial Times reports that the program, which is expected to launch in May, will include a range of local and national newspapers with at least 1 million subscribers. The offer isn’t expected to be made to subscribers of competitive publications like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
It’s a smart move. The paper has historically struggled to reach readers outside of Washington DC or New York, and partnering with newspapers in Texas or Hawaii could help change that. And so could bundling it with services to which many consumers are already subscribed, like Spotify or Amazon Prime. Bezos has used this tactic before: Amazon constantly adds new features to its Prime service to convince its most loyal customers to try its video streaming service, dust off their Kindles with borrowed books, or purchase items from its digital warehouse.
Pando weighs in
David Sirota wrote about the political capital Bezos gained by buying the Washington Post last August:
Unlike a pure media mogul who is governed and constrained by his commercial need to attract as wide an audience as possible, Bezos’s primary business is Amazon, meaning he doesn’t need the Washington Post to be commercially successful at all (and because he bought the Post with personal funds, he doesn’t have to answer to the quarterly earnings demands shareholders). Unlike the pure media mogul, that makes him more free to use his media holdings as a purely political instrument for his other business, regardless of what that may mean for the media entity’s singular financial success. And here’s the thing: even if the media entity loses money, the hybrid businessman/newspaperman can squeeze a net gain out of it by using it to buttress his other company’s profit-generating political agenda.
Sarah Lacy explained why she was excited about Bezos’ acquisition — and why old media might be worried:
While simply leaving the Post to its own devices could be great in the short term, it wouldn’t solve the underlying problems for the Post and so much of old media generally. The Post’s newsroom and costs are simply too big to support its revenues — with or without a more extensive paywall. Is it possible Bezos has a plan to make this a sustainable franchise again without turning it into a realm of slideshows? Bezos’s plans for other industries have mostly been great for consumers and bad for existing industries. A plan, if he has one, could be as frightening to journalism purists as the long slow degradation of the Forbes brand.
Pando alum Hamish McKenzie was also excited about the acquisition, for different reasons:
I just wanted to zero in on one of his comments, which I believe signals why the media industry has a brighter future than its current state would seem to imply. To me, the most important thing is not that Bezos has lots of money to fund business model experiments – it’s his recognition of the power of the story.
Bezos made that point inadvertently while discussing why printing on paper is not crucial to a newspaper’s future, a realization driven by his experience with ebooks and the Kindle.