Bezos' Resources Could Go A Long Way For 'The Post'

News that Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is buying The Washington Post for $250 million took many in the news media and publishing industries by surprise. For more insight into Bezos, David Greene talks to BusinessWeek senior writer Brad Stone. He is the author of an upcoming book: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. The news this week that Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is buying the Washington Post for $250 million in cash took many people in the news media and publishing industries by surprise. In addition to Amazon, Bezos has holdings in Twitter, Uber the private car service company, and he started a company to develop a space vehicle. But he has never owned or operated a newspaper.

To hear more about why Jeff Bezos would take this step, we called Brad Stone. He's a senior writer at BusinessWeek and he's writing a book titled "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon." And Brad, welcome to the program.

BRAD STONE: Thanks, David.

GREENE: Tell us about the man, Jeff Bezos.

STONE: He has an incredibly ambitious vision for what Amazon is going to become and what he wants to accomplish. He's always cared a great deal about content. It's interesting that his wife, Mackenzie Bezos, is a novelist and, you know, within Amazon he's been developing ways for authors to reach readers in new ways with Kindle Publishing, for ways for TV creators to create television shows and distribute them to viewers with Amazon Studios.

Until now, he's really focused on kind of disrupting the middlemen, the intermediaries like publishers and, frankly, newspapers. And so it's a little surprising. And that's why this move took so many people by surprise.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, disruptive is a word that seems to be tossed around a lot when it comes to Jeff Bezos. I mean, he sort of forced publishers to get behind the idea of digital content for books. What would it mean for him to be disruptive in the same way in the journalism business?

STONE: I think, you know, his resources are going to go a long way for The Washington Post. I mean, this is a company, like a lot of media companies, frankly, that hasn't had a lot of room to experiment. And what he brings to The Post is frankly a big pocketbook and then some sort of Amazon-style operating discipline - focus on the long-term.

I mean, Bezos, as he's shown again and again at Amazon, to the frustration sometimes of shareholders, is willing to lose money for the sake of building long-term businesses. So I assume that he'll bring a lot of additional runway for the management team at The Post.

GREENE: Why do you think he wanted to buy a newspaper?

STONE: I think he's betting on all forms of content. You know, he's the guy that's bet the biggest on the Internet. That it would scramble many industries, ecommerce, technology, infrastructure, and media. I think he admires Warren Buffet and over the last few years Buffet has bet heavily on newspapers, and I think he probably views The Post as a great investment and a good strategic asset.

GREENE: Sounds like, though, people who have sort of loved things the way they've always been in a newsroom should, at least, be bracing themselves.

STONE: Well, that's absolutely true. And when you look at the publishing business and the disruption that Amazon has caused there, and it accelerates the pace of change. And what Jeff would probably is that's not Amazon; that's the future. You know, that the future is destroying bookstores and the Internet is destroying bookstores and undermining newspapers. You know, he hasn't won a lot of friends in old media.

Perhaps that's because Amazon has, you know, moved somewhat ruthlessly to dominate these markets because it knows that he thinks he's in a foot race with Apple and with Google. And so, I think while he's going to bring a lot of opportunity and experimentation to The Post, I can't imagine he views himself as just a limitless supporter of the old way of doing things.

GREENE: Explain what you mean by that.

STONE: Well, in fact, he said in an interview last year that he can't imagine newspapers existing in the printed form in 20 years. So I can imagine a scenario where he actually accelerates the shift of the Washington Post to an all-digital format.

GREENE: Which is something that might scare people who work for a newspaper.

STONE: It might scare people but I think, you know, we in the media industry have been marinating in pessimism for a long time and probably, you know, have come to sort of understand the fact that the old way of doing things is, frankly, not supportable anymore. That fewer people are fitting newspapers into their morning schedule or reading the whole paper or paying attention to the ads or re-subscribing. And these transitions are happening, with or without Jeff Bezos.

GREENE: Brad Stone is a senior writer at BusinessWeek and he is working on a book titled "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon." Brad, thanks so much.

STONE: Thank you, David.

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