08/24/2013 11:26 EDT | Updated 10/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Jeff Bezos Will Save the Washington Post

While the outcome is fairly obvious, the question is why did Bezos pay $250 million (he paid $500 million but $250 was its real estate) for the Washington Post? Why didn't he just start offering content deals to publishers and journalists then sell it on Amazon as he does now with movies?


There is speculation as to what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is going to do with his latest acquisition, the venerable Washington Post.

But it's really not difficult to discern. Bezos is going to do to the media (newspapers, magazines and television) what Amazon did to bookstores and authors.

One need only consider his mission statement for Amazon, the book business he began in 1994: "Our vision is to have every book ever printed, in any language, available in under 60 seconds."

The Amazon template adapted to the media would be to have every article and broadcast and documentaries ever done, in any language, available in less than 60 seconds.

Bezos will provide media consumers with content from anywhere anytime, quickly. His Washington Post site will eventually contain Amazon elements: easy payment in fractions of cents; immediate delivery electronically with an option to re-route delivery; availability of subscriptions; software that enables buyers to know about and buy related content as well as find out what fellow buyers have bought; and interactivity such as posting reviews or comments. His Washington Post, like Amazon, will offer an ongoing relationship to consumers in the form of emailed alerts, reminders or bargains.

And there will be much more.

Sellers of content, also customers of Amazon's and the Washington Post, will be able to sell related content or merchandise. They will be able to reach a global market. For instance, an article by a sports writer about a sports figure will yield, if requested, a menu of the writer's other articles or appearances and a menu of other articles about the sports figure complete with an opportunity to buy tee shirts, bobble-heads, souvenirs, memorabilia, sweat suits and tickets to upcoming events.

While the outcome is fairly obvious, the question is why did Bezos pay $250 million (he paid $500 million but $250 was its real estate) for the Washington Post? Why didn't he just start offering content deals to publishers and journalists then sell it on Amazon as he does now with movies?

He needs the Washington Post brand name to front an Amazon-type service to attract discriminating consumers as well as to recruit all the world's other media owners to sell through his site.

This will take time, as Amazon did, but as customers enjoy the ease and variety of information gathering, the world's media and journalists or broadcasters will be clamoring to sell their stuff through a newly constituted Washington Post.

This sounds frightening to some. After all, the Amazon technology has certainly ruined the bookstore business and pushed around publishers. But the facts tell a different story.

There may be fewer bookstores and book publishers but more books are being bought than ever before, thanks to Amazon. This is because of price and convenience. Books can be bought in e-format, new, on sale or used anywhere, anytime.

This has provided authors with more options. Through Amazon, an author can sell books globally without getting a global publisher or without incurring enormous inventory or other expenses. Authors can bypass by self-publishing, in partnership with Amazon. This, in turn, provides an outlet for more ideas and stories than ever. Writers are no longer restricted and can write about the most arcane, academic, simple or erotic topics they want.

(And, by the way, they can also flog tee shirts or bubbleheads or their previous books and blogs at the same time.)

In essence, I believe Bezos will turn the Washington Post into the world's first virtual media provider, just as Amazon has become the world's virtual bookstore and retail outlet in general.

Theoretically, the media industry will continue for years to provide content to their audiences first. But Bezos will allow publishers and content providers to amplify their audiences, impact and revenues, by selling it to Bezos' Washington Post.

New opportunities will open up for individual journalists, broadcasters and bloggers as has happened to authors now. Authors with books can publish with Amazon in return for as much as 70% of the revenue generated.

My guess is that Bezos will keep his new media entity, the WashPost, freestanding and not fold it into Amazon even though Amazon is already in the book publishing and video content business.

The trick will be to digitize the media for money while retaining its brand influence. If anybody can, he can. He's worth US$25 billion after launching Amazon in 1994. This year's worldwide revenues will exceed US$60 billion.

Bezos won't destroy the media. He will leave players behind but the status quo hasn't been an option for decades.

Television and radio with their immediacy undermined "news" and confiscated the reporting of weather, traffic and spot news events such as elections and baseball games.

In the 1980s, satellite printing, or the ability of content to be transmitted simultaneously for distribution elsewhere, undermined the hegemony and monopolies enjoyed by local newspapers.

Now the Internet has stripped away the content that sold most of the ads - business, sports, advice, real estate, gossip, consumerism and travel. It's stripped away the ads themselves - classified and display ads are now online. And the Internet has also carved away portions of the newspaper that weren't big advertising generators: the editorials, columnists and letters to the editor. It now wounds television.

This is what happened to the grand old Washington Post too because it did not respond properly. (For instance, one of the spinoffs from its newsroom became Politico which now has as many readers than the newspaper itself.)

To technologize content is one thing but to technologize the Fourth Estate is another. I sincerely hope this is why he personally bought one of the greatest and most influential brands in the world. This is uber-content, curated and influential, that can and should command a premium in the marketplace.

Under his ownership, the Washington Post will become the incubator for all media innovations. This is why its evolution, like that of the book business, may be more positive than negative.

This article previously appeared in the Financial Post.