Amazon.com founder and Bilderberg member Jeff Bezos is all set to take control of the Washington Post from the Graham family who have owned the media publication for four generations.
Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post, along with the Express newspaper and several local weeklies bundled in.
Interestingly, the Bezos deal comes on the heals of another major media move, with the New York Times announcing that it’s selling its ownership in The Boston Globe. When the NYT purchased The Boston Globe in 1993 it had paid $1.1 billion for it. 20 years later, it’s had to dump it for a paltry $70 million.
So is Jeff Bezos betting on a dead horse? Some believe that both the Graham family and New York Times have seen the writing on the wall, and that traditional print titles are nothing but a dying breed – and a liability.
When Don Graham took over the helm of his family’s icon newspaper title in 1979, the Washington Post shared the responsibility of setting America’s news agenda with another media giant, The New York Times. But the old media paradigm has shifted drastically in the 21st century, where titles like the Post and Times have to compete with online content.
Former Post managing editor, Raju Narisetti, believes that Don Graham was right to let go of his American icon, stating:
If it is a matter of spending a lot of time, energy and resources in trying to keep fixing The Washington Post newspaper or growing the Washington Post Company, Don, as the steward of a publicly held company, has clearly done right by shareholders and his family (who are big shareholders) and he should be applauded for putting reason ahead of romanticism.
Media power is no longer concentrated in the hands of four newspapers on either side of the Atlantic. The competition for the digital English language market is not only restricted to other US mainstream print publications online; it’s also spread across a wide sector of online majors like Gawker, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Drudge Report, to name only a few. Behind them are thousands of blogs and aggregators. Another rising trend is also cutting into America and the UK’s monopoly on English language news and commentary, as global English language news outlets continue to pop up in Europe, Asia, Russia and even Iran. All of this cuts into a market which used to be sewn up by a handful of majors.
Some pundits remained stunned that a dotcom kingpin is acquiring a major US news gathering institution like the Washington Post. For some, it brought back memories of AOL’s deal which scooped up another American media institution – Time Warner. One former AOL employee remarked on Twitter this week:
Only two months ago, Jeff Bezos was locked away in steering committee meetings, along with 150 of the global corporate and political elite at the Grove Hotel in Watford, England, for the Bilderberg Group’s annual private global planning summit. So will he now be steering our media on behalf of his fellow Bilderbergers?
Struggling to compete
But even the old big boys need to stay out of the red. Some are forward thinking and some are struggling to keep up with the rapid changes taking place in the digital streams. For example, News Corporation has now opted for a subscription firewall for at least two of its top UK titles,The Times and The Sun.
Conversely, another top UK title, The Independent newspaper, had gone the route of paid online content, but eventually dropped the program after promise of online revenues didn’t live up to expectations.
Subscription firewalls have three major problems which mainstream corporate outlets are finding very difficult to crack.
Firstly and most importantly, almost all online surfers will not pay for content which they can essentially access elsewhere for free. This means online readership will drop significantly.
Secondly, brand awareness is where the value is online. By not participating in the scrum, a news title runs the risk of losing its brand’s influence over the news cycle online – which is already choppy waters for the majors.
Lastly, major advertisers and sponsors generally do not like online subscription firewalls because it means they will be pitching their products to a smaller market.
If the mainstream media were actually doing their jobs consistently – by maintaining long-term investigations, challenging the government’s hegemony over both domestic and foreign policy narratives, or by exposing the activities of the elite who like to meet in secret – like Jeff Bezos does with his fellow Bilderbergers – then we’d all be lining up for our paid online subscriptions to major online newspaper titles – even me. Instead, they have all opted in favor of holding up one side of the wall in the government media complex.
Driving digital sales
One thing is certain – and that is that Bezos will want to grow the business of the Washington Post and you can expect him to be implementing a more aggressive marketing strategy for the Post’s digital products in order to increase sales. Amazon’s Kindle platform comes to mind immediately – a ready-made subscription market already in place.
Such a level of digital leveraging is something that News Corp and New York Times are not capable of; not just because they are stuck in the old media paradigm, but because they probably could not convince any major digital platform that there is deal to be done. Bezos is able to play both sides of this deal, which will ultimately result in a growing market share for the Post and more dynamic news delivery systems for Kindle users.
For those nostalgic readers who love the fresh smell of newsprint in the morning, this deal may not be great news over the coming years. Amazon critic David Carr of the New York Times read the tea leaves, explaining:
Given that The Post still has potency as a political symbol, the fact that it could be acquired by a man who made his fortune taking apart book-publishing — another traditional business — served as more evidence that the power center in the media world has turned away from the East Coast.
He’s not kidding. In 2012, Amazon shifted 114 Kindle e-books for every 100 hardback and paperback book. If Bezos is on a mission to save trees, he’s winning that one.
Jeff Bezos: partnering with the CIA and the NSA
Emily Bell from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School, points out Bilderberger Bezos’s obvious conflicts of interest:
What we cannot know about Bezos, because he has never been tested, is how he will like the irrational world of newspaper ownership, where the media gaze is more intense per dollar invested than in any other domain. How will he react – especially after Amazon’s recent clinching of a $600m contract to provide cloud services to the CIA – to the flow of stories from his own publication on the NSA and its covert pact with the tech industry to trace our every move? How will he like his Amazon workplace practices scrutinised by his own paper? How will he like being in a world where they greatest measure of success is to irritate, damage or, at best, remove a president and other public officials?
The Washington Post does offer an excellent range of content to its readers and is one of the only mainstream media machines that hasn’t jumped completely off of the political cliff. But it is still seen as a White House gatekeeper and for whatever reason, does zero investigative journalism these days.
The fact that it’s now owned by one of Bilderberg’s Young Turks whose Amazon creation is also whoring out our private data to the NSA – and who knows who else – will raise many more questions than answers.
It’s a changing of the guard, in more ways than one.