Can Amazon’s Jeff Bezos works his online magic on the iconic Washington Post?

Should we be surprised that newspapers – in the case one of the world’s most famous the Washington Post – have become rich men’s trophy assets?

The $250m sale by the Graham family of the venerable title to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (left) is just the latest in a series of such moves. A few days ago Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC owner John Henry bought the Boston Globe.

These things don’t alway work out of course, venerable weekly magazine Newsweek is changing hands yet again after some rich folk (and Tina Brown) failed to work their magic on it.

But the Washington Post is a cut above either title; most famous for its role in revealing the Nixon presidency’s Watergate burglary, immortalised in the book and film All The President’s Men (left). Then owner Katharine Graham stood up to the White House bully boys in heroic style; her memory still brings a tear to the eyes of the most hardened hack.

So why does Bezos, who paid his $250m in cash, think he can revive a once-great newspaper?

In the online world, which he knows as well as anyone, newspaper brands remain important: they still attract lots and lots of online traffic. Former BBC director-general Mark Thompson seems to be having some success in boosting the Post’s great rival the New York Times’s digital subscriptions.

And the UK’s Mail Online, which remains free, has built up a huge readership (including in America) with its diet of wardrobe malfunctions and celebrity gossip.

Bezos, of course, has done his bit for the printed word at Amazon, not just with humungous book sales but also the hugely successful Kindle e-reader. Helped somewhat, it must be said, by Apple’s dumb refusal to supply anti-glare screens which make iPads useless for reading books outside.

Buit newspapers have always been owned by fat cats with (when it comes to newspapers) more money than sense. It will be fascinating to see if Bezos, a wily operator, can confound the cynics.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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