Friday, October 4, 2013

The Amazon Post

Related to my previous post, Boston Globe Sox, I was also quoted in an August 6th article in the E-Commerce Times entitled, Mr. Bezos Goes to Washington, on the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of The piece, by Erika Morphy, begins with the following teaser in large type:

Jeff Bezos has done something that could prove to have far greater influence than being elected to Congress. He has bought The Washington Post. "This will enable him to manage the communication of the inevitable regulation and restrictions Congress will place on digital copyrights, online taxation practices, antitrust, etc.," noted KD+E's Erik Dochtermann. And that's just for starters.

The article then begins in earnest:

News that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is acquiring The Washington Post, one of the top newspapers in the United States, shook the publishing world on Monday. Bezos is buying the paper for US$250 million in cash, a transaction that will include affiliated publications. Bezos is making the acquisition as an individual -- the Post is not to be part of Amazon's vast array of products and services.

Much is being said about this sale epitomizing the demise of print journalism's golden era. The Washington Post has carved an indelible mark in U.S. history, with its fight to publish the Pentagon Papers and its reporting on Watergate -- events that occurred decades ago but still resonate.

Today, though, the Post is being picked up for a song by a digital entrepreneur, a turn of events that is astounding to many, even though the newspaper industry has been struggling for a number of years -- in large part due to the encroachment of online media and the Internet. There is no reason to assume that a paper like The Washington Post could remain immune to these trends.
Time for me to chime in with my two pence of pensé (not that I get even one cent out of it):

"The age of the daily newspaper is coming to an end, and print news organizations have been scrambling for some time now to make the transition to the Web, with very mixed results," noted Lance Strate, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham.

Because this is a purchase made by Bezos the individual -- not Amazon -- it may not shed much light on the future of print journalism. However, it can be expected that there will be some synergies along the way. Certainly the acquisition speaks volumes about how dominant tech money has become in the U.S. economy, but there are only hints of what the deal could mean for digital content, journalism and e-commerce in general.

And as I have done so before, here's the full text of what I provided via e-mail to Erika, so you can get more of my take on the matter, along with the context of my quote, not to mention a sense of how reporters abstract quotes out of larger commentary:

Marshall McLuhan said that print is dead back in the sixties, and most people scoffed at the remark, but he was simply observing the direction in which we were headed, and in this as in many other things, he proved to be correct.

While there will always be a market for high end books, as art objects as much as reading material, it's the cheap, throwaway print media, the pulp fiction and nonfiction, that is being replaced by the even cheaper and more ephemeral medium of electronic text. The age of the daily newspaper is coming to an end, and print news organizations have been scrambling for some time now to make the transition to the web, with very mixed results.

As news reporting continues to go digital, what newspapers have to offer is their organizations, which continue to be downgraded due to the evaporation of profits, and their brand. And there are a few brands that stand out nationally and internationally, such as The New York TImes, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. With a relatively strong news organization still in place, and one of the best brands in the business, the Washington Post is a worthwhile purchase for Amazon. This provides Amazon with a new form of content to go with their Kindle ereaders and tablets, one that is renewed on a regular basis. In the long run, content is king in the world of media, as the hardware is sold only on occasion, but the software is purchased, or accessed in the case of advertising media, continually.

Bezos started out in print, as a bookseller, and has a special attachment to the medium, and periodical sales are exactly what Amazon needs to supplement books sales as they try to establish themselves as the pre-eminent purveyor of the written word, in contrast to Apple's domination of recorded music, and as they both fight it out over video sales. There may also be a sense of noblesse oblige on the part of Bezos, in trying to preserve a remnant of the print media that Amazon helped to undermine, and maybe even a bit of guilt.

Now, back to the article, and a new section entitled "Bezos' Long Runway":

For starters, Bezos does not need the paper to turn a profit -- at least, not immediately -- which will give him more room to experiment, noted Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism and graduate journalism director at Quinnipiac University.

"He may see it as a platform for his other personal ambitions that may include revolutionizing the way news is gathered, assembled and delivered," Hanley told the E-Commerce Times.

"He will certainly bring the same blend of curiosity and analysis to solving the crisis of journalism as he did when he selected books as the ideal product for launching an online store," he predicted. "The Internet is, after all, nothing more than interfaces connected to databases, which is the foundation of Bezos' original insight as applied to online commerce."

Bezos probably will experiment with smart reporting through the Kindle Publishing platform, suggested N. Venkat Venkatraman, a business professor at Boston University, which is located in a city that also saw its flagship paper trade recently.

"I see it as an opportunistic buy for him -- one that may have a longer-term connection to Amazon, but in the short term, it is about Bezos," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The last part of the article comes after the heading "Influencing Politics":

The acquisition is also an example of how tech executives are increasingly seeking to influence the power center that is official Washington -- a role that in previous years they disregarded as unimportant.

Bezos now has control of the most powerful medium in D.C. in terms of governmental influence, Erik Dochtermann, CEO of media agency KD+E, told the E-Commerce Times.

"This will enable him to manage the communication of the inevitable regulation and restrictions Congress will place on digital copyrights, online taxation practices, antitrust, etc.," he noted.

It is a move straight out of the Murdoch playbook, Dochtermann said. "How he chooses to wield this new power will likely take years to reveal itself."

I find it hard to imagine Bezos as the next Murdoch, and I suspect owning the newspaper may be more of a hobby for him, rather than a significant financial move. Or maybe it will be a creative outlet. After all, McLuhan did suggest that when a medium becomes obsolesced, it often is transformed from a mode of communication into an art form. While the electronic media turn journalism into entertainment, as Neil Postman noted in Amusing Ourselves to Death, print media are transforming the news into a type of artistic expression, giving new meaning to Ezra Pound's remark that the artist is the antenna of the race.