The Amazon is a powerful body of water bringing fertility to the plains. The online retailer of the same name has certainly created new markets with its innovative ideas. The founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, has been reported in the past as saying that there was no future for print publishing. Yet he made a decision last week to dip into his private fortune to buy The Washington Post. Bezos paid only US$250 million for this historic newspaper which says a lot about the state of this publication and the newspaper industry in general. The Washington Post is remembered by those of us living outside the United States as the newspaper that uncovered the Watergate scandal thanks to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
So after being owned by the Graham family since 1933, a man who made his fortune in the digital world has control of this ailing printed newspaper. Bezos has built the largest online retail operation in the world in the course of which he lured us to start reading books on screens, building the Kindle in 2007 to make it convenient. It is unlikely that he will just keep The Washington Post as an expensive, money-draining plaything like a Ferrari. He has the energy and imagination as well as the cash to transform his purchase. He may well demonstrate to the other of the newspaper owners how to repackage this business to ensure success in the digital age.
As someone who used to read three newspapers a day on the train as well a couple of serious magazines (oh, I had better mention the satirical Private Eye was also a weekly treat or you’ll picture me as very serious young man) on my train ride to college, I have been saddened by the general decline across the publishing industry. Newspapers and magazines are closing. Bookshops are closing. Trained and experienced journalists are losing their jobs. But like the steam train, the printed word has to move aside for a new technology which is faster and more flexible.