What Motivated Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos to Buy the Dying Washington Post?
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has purchased The Washington Post Monday, along with a batch of smaller affiliate papers. Now, the question is why.
Bezos is a gazillionaire (okay, he's worth $25.2 billion if you want to get specific) so the $250 million purchase ate up less than 1 percent of his net worth. The Post has been suffering from plummeting circulation and revenues in recent years, so it doesn't exactly seem like Bezos' new purchase was motivated by profit-making potential. So what's in it for him?
Was it a play to give Bezos "a microphone as powerful as anyone in Washington and outside the West Wing," as the New York Times claimed this morning? A philanthropic move to save a dying but invaluable industry? Or perhaps the "ultimate disrupter" actually has a master plan to lead The Washington Post into a future of growth, innovation, and low-margin profits? (Some people like a challenge.)
The Graham family had owned the paper since 1933, and occupies a sentimental spot in the journalism community. One reporter at the paper told The New Yorker's David Remnick that after current owner Donald Graham broke the news to the staff everyone “was just plain sad... This was the family acknowledging that we can’t do it anymore, and we have to give it to someone else.” Graham has expressed, however, that he felt no pressure from Bezos to sell the paper, and genuinely felt that it was the best possible move to save the paper from demise.
Nonetheless, the staff was clearly blindsided by the news. The Post's Wonkblog editor Ezra Klein posted these reactions on Twitter after the announcement:
Bezos has promised to keep on the same editorial leadership and not to interfere with the paper's existing values. Donald Graham allegedly warned him before selling the paper that The Washington Post has not been afraid to criticize Amazon.com in the past, and he can't expect them to shy away from doing so in the future just because he's in charge.
In fact, The Washington Post's own WonkBlog posted this article today investigating Amazon.com's lobbying history. The company spends millions of dollars every year wiggling its way out of paying Internet sales taxes, fighting regulations on the tech industry, and battling with labor unions abroad (though not yet within the U.S.).
Bezos insists that the fact that he is buying the papers as an individual (rather than through Amazon.com) removes any potential conflicts of interest. Still, many have also begun to examine Bezos' own political leanings. He's been called a libertarian, though his campaign donations are traced to liberal Democrats. He's supported causes like gay marriage and First Amendment rights, but also fought taxes on the wealthy, and been a member of conservative lobbying group ALEC (before he dropped out in protest of their support of "Stand Your Ground Laws").
So what does this mega-rich man of mystery have up his sleeve? Looks like we have 59 days to find out.