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Jeff Bezos: Businessman or Philanthropist?

Posted by prof e on August 12, 2013

BezosJeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon.com, just purchased the Washington Post newspaper for $250 million. The newspaper has struggled in recent years, as have nearly all US newspapers, with declining revenue and increasing losses. Last year the paper lost $54 million and this year they are on track to lose another $100 million. Some are asking if Bezos can do for journalism what he did for retail sales. With a personal fortune of nearly $25 billion Bezos’ “investment” in the WaPo equals just one percent of his wealth — hardly a huge financial risk if he is unable to turn things around.

But perhaps turning things around is not his first priority. Some have speculated that the decision to purchase the paper was less about adding to his financial stature and more about advancing his own political agenda. Still others suggest that is may be about enhancing his image and legacy. If we’ve learned anything from the history of the rich and powerful it is that advancing age often brings with it a strong desire to do something that will be seen as having a lasting impact…something that will endure long after they are gone. Thanks to legendary PR practitioner “Poison” Ivy Lee, the great robber baron John D. Rockefeller is as well-known today for his philanthropy as for the tragic massacre at Ludlow.

Bezos purchased the paper from the Graham family who are highly esteemed Washington D.C. insiders. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle, or as Bezos calls it, the “other Washington.” The cultural clash between East/West coast and Old/New money could make this relationship a challenge. But Amazon and Bezos are not unfamiliar with the D.C. way of life. Last year they spent a reported $2.5 million lobbying the executive and legislative branches of government.

In a letter to Washington Post employees, Bezos wrote,

There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.

It will be interesting to see what kinds of experiments Bezos has in mind. Will every new Kindle sold come with a Washington Post subscription? Will news and retail marketing somehow find a symbiotic relationship where consumers of both news and commercial products move freely between both commodities? Or will the Washington Post simply be the legacy medium that Bezos uses to burnish his personal legacy? As Bob Schieffer said on Face the Nation, “We can get along without newspapers, but we can’t get along without what newspapers do.” Let’s hope we don’t have to witness the truth of that statement.

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4 Responses to “Jeff Bezos: Businessman or Philanthropist?”

  1. Samantha Baker said

    One important question posed by Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post is the reasoning behind his decision. He could have bought it as a businessman who believes in continuing a legacy; although, it is doubtful that this is the sole reason behind the investment. The alternative being to further Bezos’ political power does not comfort the public. However, if the paper is revitalized does it really matter for what reason? The public must remain aware that because of the paper’s ownership the information that it shares could be biased to Jeff Bezos’ opinion. Yet, new ownership from a man that turned “retail sales” around might be what the newspaper industry needs to survive. According to Turow, during the advertising revolution “inventors and newspaper owners worked together to make the newspaper attractive to huge audiences” (266). Another revolution or transformation is exactly what needs to happen now; otherwise, newspapers will die off until they are only seen in textbooks. Despite what his motives are, Jeff Bezos could be the man that brings new ideas to the industry, new ideas that will alter its current downward spiral. People need to be shocked by the change in newspapers just like they were in the late 1880’s when new technology allowed the papers to evolve. During the 1880’s, the industry had to deal with two major changes in the form of readership and financial support, which happen to be two problems that are being faced today (Turow, 265). Like then, we need people that are willing to change the way people think about the newspaper. As long as Jeff Bezos is able to help the news industry and the public is aware of the Washington Posts allegiance to Bezos, then I don’t see a problem with his motivation to purchase a dying form of news.

    Turow, Joseph. Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

  2. Sara Knuth said

    Bezos’ decision to buy the Washington Post has the potential to push the business of journalism in the right direction but the quality of it is at stake. Most newspapers are online now and reporters say that because of all the added tasks associated with it “they have little time to conduct time-consuming legwork and thinking that will help them get below the surface of stories” (Turow 284). It is easy to imagine that under Bezos’ control, the Washington Post will have an even stronger technological presence than it does now. (Maybe the print edition will be delivered via Amazon drones). Regardless of his intentions, Bezos will be making changes to how Washington Post subscribers get their news. Other major newspapers have the advantage of seeing where these changes take the industry and more importantly, whether or not they want to follow. In an ideal world, Bezos will allow a balance between revolutionizing the newspaper business and leaving the rest up to the reporters and editors with experience in quality.

    Works Cited
    Turow, Joseph. Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

  3. Andrea Cook said

    Every Kindle sold World Wide should include an online Washington Post subscription. I’m sure they over charge for the Kindle anyways. As consumers we want to be able to move freely between media. We now all know Bob Schierffer’s name so if the Kindle or the Washington Post do not fully pan out at least he’ll leave behind a legacy. By Schierffer purchasing the Washington Post he used publicity for both his products. If you were a Kindle user now you might read the ‘Post or if you’re a newspaper fan maybe now you’ll purchase a Kindle. Publicity means “practice of getting people or products mentioned in the news and entertainment media in order to get members of the public interested in them.” (Turow 560) Two birds one stone.

  4. Thomas Gibbons said

    I like the fact that Bezos bought The Washington Post, because it symbolizes his love for his hometown. Like he said, he calls Seattle “the other Washington”. By buying The Washington Post, he is hopefully going to turn it around and make it successful as a newspaper, to sustain the legacy of the newspaper that has been going on so long. Now I’m sure that the Kindle’s are going to have a Washington Post subscription, it’s only obvious since Bezos has enough money for himself to be generous to others.The users of the Washington Post newspaper and Amazon should be pleased with this decision, because hopefully it turns around the newspaper industry, well one company anyways.
    Works Cited:
    Turow, Joseph. Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication. 4th Ed. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

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