The announcement that The Washington Post has been sold by the Graham family to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos came as a surprise to many. "My first reaction to news that the family had sold the paper is simple shock," writes The Atlantic's James Fallows, who goes on to describe the sensation as "sheer generational disorientation."
For some, there is a disconnect between the newspaper that broke the Watergate story and a man who sells the Kindle. But in many ways, the sale is perfectly in keeping with current trends in the media industry:
1. The Washington Post has been losing money and subscribers
It's not a new story that fewer readers are buying newspapers and advertisers are following them to the web. Although online ad revenues are growing, they don't make up for the losses in print advertising. BusinessWeek reports on the Washington Post's newspaper losses:
"Washington Post Co.’s newspaper division reported widening operating losses in the past two years, including a $53.7 million loss in 2012, according to its annual filings. The division’s annual sales declined 7 percent to $581.7 million in 2012, with the Washington Post’s print advertising, once the lifeblood of the paper, falling 14 percent to $228.2 million in the same period."
2. Family owned papers are becoming a thing of the past
David Carr writes:
"In selling to Mr. Bezos, the Grahams left the Sulzbergers, the owners of The New York Times, as the last family standing in a club that once also included the Chandlers (Los Angeles Times), the Copleys (San Diego Tribune), the Cowles (Minneapolis Star Tribune), and the Bancrofts (Wall Street Journal)."
3. News organizations need to embrace changing technology
Bezos is obviously well-positioned to do just that. While it's unclear if getting digital news is more environmentally sustainable than newsprint, digital media appears to be more economically sustainable. "Bezos is fascinated by novel business models; he’s constantly on the hunt for new ways to sell groceries, cloud services, media, and everything else (see Amazon Prime, Web Services, etc.)," writes Farhad Manjoo in his Slate piece titled "If Anyone Can Save the Washington Post, It's Jeff Bezos."
4. Bezos is already heavily invested in media companies
Megan Garber has collected a list of Bezos' growing media holdings, including The Express, The Gazette newspapers, El Tiempo Latino, The Capital Deal and New Homes Guide.
While it is worth noting that Amazon spent $4.7 million on government lobbying in 2011-2012, Bezos appears to be committed to the fundamental principles of journalism. "We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads," he assured in a letter to Post employees:
"The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners."