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Media Experts Ponder Future of Newspapers After Washington Post Sale

Media Experts Ponder Future of Newspapers After Washington Post Salei
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August 10, 2013
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos made news this week following reports that the Internet pioneer had purchased one of the nation’s top newspapers - The Washington Post. The newspaper has been losing money for years. Initial reaction to the $250-million deal has been mostly positive. But as Mil Arcega reports, the buyout is raising questions about the future of the struggling newspaper industry.
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— Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos made news this week following reports that the Internet pioneer had purchased one of the nation’s top newspapers - The Washington Post. The newspaper has been losing money for years. Initial reaction to the $250-million deal has been mostly positive. The buyout is raising questions, however, about the future of the struggling newspaper industry.

He founded one of the world’s most profitable online companies. He has shaped the way consumers buy books. And now Bezos is poised to become the owner of one of the nation’s most influential papers.  

Ken Doctor, the author of Newsonomics - about how digital trends are shaping the news - said the buyout marks a significant shift for newspapers, not just the Post.

Speaking via Skype, he said, “It raises on a high level, questions about the future of The New York Times. And this, of course, at the same time when Axel Springer [multi-media publisher] in Germany is getting out of the regional newspaper business. So we have a worldwide phenomenon - an earthquake really in the news business.”

That’s because what happens at the Post in the Bezos era is likely to set the pattern for other struggling newspapers.

One issue likely to come up is the role of unions and collective bargaining. Amazon often has seen unions as obstacles to innovation. Chris Tolles, CEO of the online news community Topix, said that Bezos is unlikely to run the Post, though, the way he runs Amazon.

“The fact that he made a personal investment is the interesting part here. It’s not that he was the founder of Amazon. But this seems to be his own thing. And it will be, I think it’s going to be, different than any of us can foresee in terms of how it goes on. I doubt it’s going to be just another arm of Amazon,” said Tolles.

Bezos, who has been described as libertarian in his views, has promised no radical changes at the Post - assuring staff that he would leave editorial politics and day-to-day operations to the professionals.  

But on Skype, new media professor Paul Levinson says he’s not buying it. “It’s almost become a cliché that when a big corporation buys out some kind of media operation, whether it’s a newspaper or television operation - they always say the same thing - 'We’re going to keep our hands off the editorial policy, we’re going to allow the original editors to continue' - and invariably that never holds,” said Levinson.

For the Post to return to profitability, something has to give. Experts say Bezos either will have to bring in more revenue or cut costs.

Doctor said running a newspaper is not the same as running an online store. “What Bezos does with The Washington Post is a real open question. No experience as a media entrepreneur, no idea how thin-skinned he may be, or how he’s going to run that organization.”

Advertising accounts for up to 80 percent of newspaper revenue. While recent double-digit declines in print advertising have slowed, publishers continue downsizing newsrooms across the country as more people turn to online news.  

Experts say what happens next at the 136-year old Washington Post either will signal the start of a new business model or the continuing decline of newspapers in the digital age.

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Comments
     
by: John Young from: Los Angeles
September 08, 2013 12:03 PM
After Napster almost put the music business out of business by giving away music, iTunes was able to save the industry by selling individual tracks for a reasonable price -- about $1 or what we historically paid for a single 45 RPM record -- versus the price gouging $16.95 that the typical CD sold for. And you usually only got one or two songs on that CD that you liked. Similarly, I'm willing to pay an iTunes-like price for newspapers, maybe $19.95 a year, but certainly not the $300 per year newspapers are used to getting for delivering an expensive paper-based product. I have to guess layout, printing, and delivering papers wipes out most or more than the price of a subscription. I tried subscribing to the WSJ, but they insisted on delivering the physical paper to me, even though I only wanted the electronic edition. What a waste of money. After their introductory price was over, I cancelled.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 11, 2013 9:39 PM
I suppose Bezos is not interested in journalism but only thinking about money. Washington Post also thinks about money seriously and come to this sale.

I doubt online journalism could replace paper journalism. The role of journalism is not only delivering raw news in photoes and videos without comments. Journalim should have its own opinions reflecting the publisher's and editer's thought. It would be helpful for subscribers to reach their own acceptable opinions when defferent interpretations are shown by different editers.

Online news are irresponsible if they deliver the news collected by paper journalism without paying reasonable money. As long as online is operated on the basis of free contact, news with full contents which costs a lot of money on collection would not survive online.

What now questioned is I think whether we citizons would like temporary, free, irresponsible stimuli or would like detailed profound intelligence. Thank you.


by: chrisl from: long beach, ny
August 10, 2013 11:38 AM
Sure digital media has hurt print media across the board. But your "experts" ignore the elephant in the room. WaPo, Newsweek and the NY Times have abandoned even the facade of impartiality and have turned themselves into cheerleaders for the Democrats. How do they expect to increase revenues when their opinions are always the opposite of 50% of potential customers? Moreover, these rags no longer perform any investigative journalism unless its to find dirt on Republicans, like the haircut Romney gave some kid forty years ago. What important information have they discovered about Obama's "phony scandals"? Nothing. In fact they seem much more concerned with ignoring them or actually covering them up. So why should anyone, including Democrats, buy this junk when they can just hear Obama read the same thing off his teleprompter?

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