What our columnists say on Bezos’ buy of WaPo

08 Aug,2013

 

 

Ranjona Banerji: Wake up and smell the coffee! What’s Bezos’s trip?
 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

There has been both astonishment and hand-wringing over Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post for $250 million. The venerable newspaper – most famous to the rest of the world for breaking the Watergate story – has belonged to the same family for some years and Katharine Graham was a formidable name in the publishing industry. Now the newspaper belongs to the founder of Amazon, the internet bookseller that revolutionised online buying and the selling of books.

 

The jokes have been many – Bezos added Washington Post to his shopping cart by mistake, his wife asked him to bring him a newspaper so he just bought the whole company and more. But below the humour is some sort of fear that someone from this dreaded new internet world has infringed into some respected old heritage property. The intentions may not be evil says this thinking but the outcome certainly will be.

 

Well, wake up and smell the coffee. The internet is everywhere and like every human invention it can be good and it can be bad. As far as print journalism is concerned, the internet is a better friend than television which really hurt its revenues and its reach. Reserve falling into the depths of depression over paper being replaced by electronic tablets for about 10 minutes in the morning and use the rest of your free minutes to just consider how much time people today spend online, whether on phones, tablets or computers.

 

Many media houses which are not owned by internet whizzes have destroyed their intellectual properties and ruined their staff all by themselves. The New York Times for instance sold the Boston Globe – which it acquired some 20 years ago – to the owner of an American baseball team for $ 70 million, less than what they bought it for. Is that more or less frightening than Bezos buying the Washington Post?

 

India is full of all kinds of cross-media ownership with industrial houses with vested interests popping up all over the place. No one spends sleepless nights over that. And for all we know, once the handwringing has stopped, Washington Post might be able to use Amazon’s internet experience to mark out a path for all newspapers to follow in this digital world.

 

 

By Anil Thakraney

 

Why on earth would a tech expert, an internet king, a man with a scientific bent of mind (he dreams of building amusement parks and hotels in the space!) buy himself an old world thingy? That too a newspaper, a product category that’s clearly on a brisk walk into the sunset, at least in the developed world. It’s quite intriguing.

 

There can be two possibilities: One, Jeff Bezos has hot new tricks up his sleeve for the Washington Post. Perhaps he has killer ideas on how to change the fortunes of a brand that’s on the decline, perhaps he’ll show other newspaper barons how an akbaar should be run profitably in the age of the internet. Perhaps a bored Bezos has taken on a brand new challenge for himself. If this is the case, good luck to him. It’s quite possible with his visionary ideas and innovative thinking, Bezos will be able to reverse the newspaper clock. If indeed this is the plan, all eyes will be on the Washington Post from here on.

 

Two, Bezos has done what many industrialists with extra cash do across the world, most certainly in India. Which is to buy a media brand with a simple agenda: To promote other products from the enterprise and more importantly, use it as a lever in negotiations with those in power. If this is the case, it will be a real pity. As a staffer of the Washington Post, I would carry my resignation letter typed and ready in my left hip pocket. Since the tycoon has bought the newspaper with his own ‘pocket money’ (Amazon has nothing to do with it), I am afraid the second possibility sounds very real.

 

However, to be fair to the man, we will have to wait and watch where the Washington Post goes from here. It will either be packed with advertorials and plugs and biased reports. Or we’ll read about another Watergate scandal. Or Bezos will create a brand new way of making a daily newspaper. Any which way, interesting times ahead.

 

 

 

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