Bezos Buys Washington Post (No Really!)

Permit me if you will, to divert from my usual inane ramblings about all things search to comment on today’s startling announcement. Jeff Bezos the brilliant founder of Amazon has just bought the mighty Washington Post for $250MM of his own money.  Back before I went dot com in 1999, I did a decade working very closely with major newspapers all over the world. As I recall, The Post was never a client of ours so I never got to spend quality time there, but the NY Times, Boston Globe, Star Tribune (the list goes on and on) were and I spent many happy years working with the amazing people which pull off the daily miracle; which is the News Paper business. I decided to get out, not because I didn’t have a great job or didn’t enjoy it, but despite the booming ad revenues and circulation it seemed to me that the writing was on the wall… and it didn’t look great. So I quit my nice job and joined a Internet Search Engine start up… the rest is history. Throughout my time in search I have kept several friends in the news business, and if you cut me I still bleed ink… but man, it is tough to see how the mighty are fallen. To fully understand the level of apocalypse this industry has experienced, you need look no further than this striking… indeed terrifying graphic which shows news paper revenues adjusted for inflation.

Newspaper-Ad-Sales-Decline-610x420This decline is even clearer when you take into account the relatively modest $250MM paid by Bezos for one of the nations great publishing institutions. Back in 1933 when the current owners purchased the title out of bankruptcy they paid $825,000. If that value had kept up with inflation it would have cost Bezos nearly $15BN big ones. That he only paid 6% of the inflation adjusted price gives you some idea of the straits the industry is now in. I’ve admired Mr. Bezos for many years. He’s clearly a genius and I love, his products. Anyone that can take on our space and conquer it as he has, has to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s a visionary who thinks big, indeed he’s working on his own space program complete with a Texas based launch facility and mission control.
Forbes says he’s worth over $25Bn, so for him to put down what amounts to 1% of his net worth on the project, is similar to a regular Joe buying an ATV. We have a grand old tradition in the US of rich and powerful men owning huge chunks of media, at least in part as a political mouth piece. Murdoch has been the poster child for this on the right, but News Corp owns much more than just the print titles, so it going to be tougher for Bezos to make an empire out of The Post print titles alone.  If I had to rank the challenge of getting a man into orbit or making the grand old institution of The Post successful again, or getting a man into low earth orbit, I’d be hard pushed to pick the easier option… but he certainly deserves credit for taking the project on.