Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Buys Washington Post for $250 million
Iconic American newspaper The Washington Post has been sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million.
The sale is a personal one, to Bezos as an individual; Amazon as a company (which Bezos owns a 19% stake in) is not involved.
‘I, along with Katharine Weymouth and our board of directors, decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who might be better for the Post,’ said Washington Post chairman and chief executive Donald Graham.
The Post, whose daily circulation peaked in 1993 (at 832,332 average daily subscribers) has suffered – like all newspapers – from the declines in circulation and advertising that are a consequence of the digital age. In March 2013, the paper’s daily circulation had dropped to 474,767.
According to the Alliance for Audited Media, it was the seventh most popular daily newspaper in the US this year.
The end of a publishing dynasty
The Graham family acquired the newspaper at a bankruptcy auction in 1933; it has been run by them ever since.
Katharine Weymouth, the current publisher, is the granddaughter of journalism legend Katharine Graham, who took the lead role at the company in 1963 after her husband, Philip Graham (who had run the company since 1946) committed suicide. She later said that when she took over, with only modest experience in journalism – and none in business – she was terrified of asking dumb questions and making mistakes.
Katharine Graham went on to guide the Washington Post through two of the most celebrated episodes in American journalism: the publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of the war in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal, which led to Richard M. Nixon’s resignation from the presidency in 1974 under the threat of impeachment. She and the editor she appointed, Ben Bradlee, transformed the newspaper and established its reputation as a leader in journalistic excellence. She was the first woman to run a Fortune 500 company.
Weymouth told employees she thought her grandmother (who died in 2001, aged 84) would have approved of the decision to sell the paper to Bezos. ‘He does not have a political agenda,’ she said of him. ‘He understands that we are going to cover him and his business.’
Indeed, in her Pulitzer prize-winning memoir, Personal History, Katharine Graham wrote that ‘journalistic excellence and profitability go hand in hand’. She described her need ‘to assure Wall Street that I wasn’t some madwoman, interested only in risks and editorial issues, but that I was concerned with how we ran our business’.
Jeff Bezos: Won’t change the Post’s ‘values’
Don Graham says he has known Bezos for 15 years, and frequently asked his advice on new media and technology.
‘Jeff Bezos’ proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for the Post,’ Weymouth said in a letter to readers.
Bezos himself says he won’t be changing the ‘values’ of the paper; neither will he lead it on a day-to-day basis.
‘There will, of course, be changes at the Post over the coming years,’ he said, in an open letter on the paper’s website. ‘The internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs.’
Weymouth will stay on as CEO and publisher; the rest of the senior management team at the Post and other businesses being sold have also been asked to continue in their roles.
The deal includes all of the publishing businesses owned by the Washington Post company, including the Express tabloid, the Gazette Newspapers in Maryland, Southern Maryland Newspapers, The Fairfax County Times, El Tiempo Latino and Greater Washington Publishing.
It does not include the online Slate magazine, The Root.com and Foreign Policy magazine, which will be retained by The Washington Post company.
‘With a fortune valued at $25.2 billion, Bezos could sustain the operating losses from the Post and the rest of the company’s newspapers — most recently at $34.5 million a quarter — for more than 182 years,’ estimates the Washington City Paper.
‘You inherit something and you do what you can,’ said Katharine Graham of her stewardship of the Post. ‘And so the person who succeeds you inherits something different, and you add to it or you subtract from it or you do whatever you do. But you never totally control it.’