When Jeff Bezos’s wife asked him to pick up a newspaper on the way back home, she really didn’t expect him to purchase The Washington Post for $250 million. The joke aside, news that the Internet tycoon and founder-CEO of Amazon is purchasing the storied American newspaper broke like a thunderclap over US media circles and in Washington DC, where the flagship daily has ruled the roost for more than a century, the last eight decades under the stewardship of the Meyer-Graham family.
But on Tuesday, the Post itself reported that the family was selling the paper after an agonizing internal debate because it has not been able to escape the financial turmoil that has engulfed the American print media, mainly on account of the rise of the internet and the shifting of loyalties in the west to digital outlets and devices. Bezos, 49, who has an engineering background and is based in Seattle, will be buying the paper in his personal capacity for $250 million in cash, turning the publicly traded entity into a sole private property.
The expectation, even among the Post’s current ownership, is that because Bezos will not be under pressure to report positive earnings to shareholders or crank out profits for investors, he will be able to experiment boldly even if he loses money for awhile, which is what he did with Amazon. ”Every member of my family started out with the same emotion — shock — in even thinking about selling The Post,” the paper’s current chairman-CEO Donald Graham was quoted saying in an interview on Monday. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings… Bezos’s proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for the Post.”
“The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future. But we wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success, but it gives us a much greater chance of success,” he added.
The transaction, expected to be completed in 60 days, sent everyone scurrying to scrutinize Bezos’s political affiliations and ideological leanings, considering he will now be the sole owner of the country’s premier national newspaper published from the US capital. From all accounts, he is a liberal. Although Washington DC has another city newspaper, the conservative Washington Times, and dailies such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today are distributed here, the Post was also the quintessential home town daily, a staple for some half-million DC area residents.