On August 5th of this year Jeff Bezos announced he was buying the Washington Post for 250 million dollars. Even though that's the kind of money Bezos carries around for lunch, it seemed like a dubious investment. I mean newspapers are dying. The Post had incurred a 44% drop in revenue over the past six years. Why not wait another year or two and pick it up for 100 million? Let's face it no one else was bidding for the darn thing. It sounded like an investment in an 8-track tape manufacturer.
I've searched everywhere for reasons why he did it and every publication which reported the purchase explains that Bezos really loves the written word. You know what else Bezos loves? Money. So why would investing into a dinosaur industry be a wise investment? Because although newspapers are slowly disappearing, news isn't. That means very talented journalists are becoming a rare commodity. The few that haven't jumped ship to other forms of media (blogs, podcasts, etc.) are finding fewer and fewer options to utilize their skills.
One thing I haven't seen anywhere is the concept that Bezos would place a free Washington Post app right on the front screen of every Kindle Fire they sell. That means millions of tablet users will have access to the Washington Post for free. Who doesn't like free? And with free access to a well established newspaper entity like the Washington Post I would suggest that readership will skyrocket. Once that happens, revenue from advertisers will skyrocket as well.
Although I've never seen this announced anywhere, it's not hard to imagine this becoming a reality. And that brings me to the real subject here--the future of publishing. Let's face it, for decades the publishers held the keys to the publishing world. Why? Because they held the keys to distribution. But with digital technology allowing anyone to become a distributor, publishers are becoming less and less relevant. The ones who really hold the power now are the true digital distributors, Amazon and Apple. Amazon already owns several publishing companies already so it's not beyond the realm of possibilities that they would create their own magazines for specific genres. I'm speaking fiction and nonfiction. With so many talented freelance writers out there searching for a home for their byline, content is dirt cheap. And Amazon can distribute digital magazines for pennies. So the content is cheap and distribution is cheap. Anyone know why Jeff Bezos is one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet? He thinks two steps ahead of anyone else.
Does this mean print newspapers and paper magazines are going away? No. You can still purchase vinyl records if you wish. But the future of newspaper and magazine publishing is certainly digital, and there are no better companies positioned for that form of distribution than Amazon and Apple. Who will be the first to break through this market? In my opinion Jeff Bezos has just placed his bet on the table.