I think everyone is missing the mark in trying to divine the motivations behind Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post, a point I made during this week’s episode of Beyond Social Media.
It’s not about having a political megaphone or influence over legislators who will be deliberating sales tax policy. $250 million dollars can buy him a lot more direct influence, after all.
I doubt it’s about a legacy of Bezos proving he can discover a new economic model for news in the Internet age, at least not directly. Bezos predicted just last year that print would be dead in 20 years and said that people won’t pay for news online. So why invest $250 million in a dead-tree industry?
Does he think he can make banner advertising more effective? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s it.
I think Bezos understands something that newspapers have completely failed to grasp because they’re not wired to see it: They are sitting on a treasure trove of behavioral data on how people interact with, and respond to, content. But newspaper companies do not have the in-house talent to exploit that data…or even recognize its value and I doubt that many have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it if they did.
Bezos has the insight and the infrastructure.
I think the purchase of the Washington Post is a content play. I think he’ll apply analytics to content to understand how people respond to content and learn how that dynamic drives purchases. Figuring that out will allow him to justify subsidizing journalism and in the end, that may very well be his legacy: Free, economically-sustainable journalism.