Bezos added that he was confident that old media like The Post could master the new technology landscape. “There are arenas where the transformation was done by the incumbents,” he said, citing the example of Amazon, which dominated the sale of print books and later adapted to the sale of e-books.
He postulated that the tablet could offer a way of rebundling the newspaper, though he said he was “less optimistic” about a Web-based product becoming profitable. “I’m convinced that the reach of the tablet will give us a bigger paying audience.”
“This is so unexplored, and nobody — this code has not been cracked,” he said. “But there are so many degrees of freedom, knobs that can be turned and things we can experiment with that I’m confident there’s something we can find that readers love and will be engaged with — and that we can charge for.”
Bezos’ acquisition of The Post took the media industry by surprise. Bezos dealt with Nancy B. Peretsman, a managing director at Allen & Co., who contacted him on behalf of Donald Graham, the chief executive of The Washington Post Co., about buying the paper. He decided to buy the newspaper on the basis of what he called “three gates.”
He first considered whether The Post remained an important institution, which he said was clearly true.
Second, he weighed whether he could still be optimistic about its future, and he said his “genetic optimism” combined with his conclusion that The Post still retained an extremely talented staff of journalists led him to conclude that the company could be successful.
The third “gate,” he said, was whether he could personally make a difference, and he said he could because of lessons he has learned inventing Amazon.com, turning it into a disruptive force in an existing industry and creating packages or bundles that customers value.
He urged the paper’s journalists to think about “how are we going to be different. We should think big about what is the next golden age of The Washington Post.” He said that he plans to invest in the paper and that some areas needed to expand and others to contract.
In the afternoon, Robert Kaiser, who joined the paper six months before Bezos was born, asked him what “a new golden era” would look like for a paper that once had many more staffers and foreign and domestic bureaus.
“How many foreign bureaus in a golden era? I don’t know,” Bezos said. “We can’t go backwards. We also can’t think small. We need to think big and lean into the future. The death knell for any enterprise is to glorify the past no matter how good it was, especially for an institution like the Washington Post which has such a hallowed past.” He said “it is super clear to me already that people are eager for a golden era… What it means we still need to figure out.”