The Washington Post’s purchase by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos is the latest example of a new generation of internet moguls spending big on pet projects.
It was also revealed this week that Google founder Sergey Brin was the financial backer behind the world’s first lab-grown hamburger. While the synthetic hamburger is a new idea, the Washington Post is an institution. The Graham family has owned it for 80 years, including during the time it famously exposed US president Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. It is a well-respected newspaper and one of the few apparently running at a profit, despite decreased circulation, as readership migrates online.
This purchase is a sign of how the new world is taking over the old. And, a by-product for Bezos is increased political influence. At the same time, his proven reputation as a technology and business genius makes his interest in the Post a great opportunity, so what can the newspaper learn from its new owner?
1. Think big, very big
Amazon did not enter the bookselling market place with the aim of becoming a major player, it entered with the aim of becoming the only player. The Washington Post is not exactly a minnow but newspapers have tended to act tentatively when it comes to building their online presence. Digital readers are an impatient bunch and won’t wait around for you to catch up. Brand loyalty is put to the test on a daily basis in a way that has proved difficult for big-name newspapers to cope with. The Post should strike out online with the same boldness that characterised its prime years after Watergate.
2. Adapt to survive
Bezos and his team are fearless when it comes to continuously shifting the business model for Amazon. Having started with books, the site expanded its remit to sell electronics, CDs, DVDs and even jewellery and clothes. Then it opened up to allow registered sellers to market their own products. As a result, it has become the biggest online retailer.
Newspapers could follow suit, for instance, by offering sections in which news from several sources is compared or integrated. Readers often have a voracious appetite for information about a particular topic, regardless of who produced it. This could work well when a major news story breaks, such as political events in Syria or the football transfer window.
3. Know your customer forensically
Amazon users know to check out the reviews of the products in their baskets before ordering to make an informed choice. A community has grown on the site because people want to know what others think when they make a purchasing decision.
In the old world, newspapers balked at the idea of producing content that readers “wanted” to read. Journalists are still wary of allowing reader stats to influence their content but are warming up to the value of getting the reader involved. This includes having sections for readers to comment on live issues but also means offering up content that is tailored to individual readers.
Amazon recommendations can go wrong with hilarious results but there is no denying that the site is the master when it comes to personalising the e-commerce experience. News websites do already suggest content to readers but most could do so in a much more sophisticated way.
4. Add items to your basket
When Lovefilm entered the market, offering an online DVD rental service, Amazon was quick to spot an opportunity and snapped up the company. The Post may have to jump-start its renewal process through acquisition of, say, a highly-regarded print magazine and/or e-news agency now that the Post has become separated from Slate magazine in the sale to Bezos. It could also “purchase” highly regarded online columnists to write for it as a way of reinforcing its branding as a digital news provider.
5. Choose your weapons
Amazon’s brand power has enabled it to extend its product line and it’s not just about purchases that arrive in a brown box. The company’s arsenal includes Amazon Studios for example, which produces films and TV shows based on online submissions and user feedback. The Post has a very prestigious brand in the US and should use this to consider sponsoring an existing online news channel or even starting its own.
Amazon also knows how to lean on its brand to reel customers in to its latest products. We should probably expect to see this playing out again with the Post. It won’t be long before Kindles come with an in-built Washington Post app, with email alerts on breaking news.