As you have undoubtedly heard by now, Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos is going to purchase The Washington Post. He will become the sole owner of the news organization when the sale wraps up.
But writing to Post employees this week, he did touch on the future of the industry. And he has spoken in the past about shifts in the media landscape, changes looming for the news business and general innovation.
In a letter to Post employees, Bezos said this about what lies ahead:
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. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.
In the past, Bezos noted that the end was in sight for print editions of newspapers. He discussed this and much more in an interview last year with the German publication Berliner-Zeitung. (That story, which was found by Andrew Kaczynski, was printed in German; the text has been translated to English by The Post’s Jan Friedmann.)
When asked whether he reads printed newspapers, Bezos replied by saying:
No, not any more. The print publishing business is going trough a difficult transition period which is not completed yet. Personally I have concluded this transition by reading newspapers only in their digital versions.
He said that tablet computers (like, one assumes, Amazon’s Kindles) offered hope for the future:
It is like this: People are not ready to pay for news on the web, and this will not change again. But we have found out that people are willing to pay for their newspaper subscriptions on their tablets. Tablets will further influence our everyday life. Soon every household will have more than one tablet. This will be normal. And these trends will strengthen newspapers.
But the era of the printed newspaper is coming to a close, he said:
One thing is for sure: In 20 years to come we will not have printed newspapers any more. And if, then only as luxury products that certain hotels offer their guests as an extra service. Printed newspapers will not be of common use in 20 years.
Bezos did say in the interview that when print papers have fully given way to digital publications, “There will be a place for quality journalism then … journalism is not going to disappear.”
Amazon has also made forays into publishing, and Bezos has spoken about these efforts. Last year, he talked with Fortune about an e-book product that regularly delivers books to Kindle readers. Bezos’s comments are in bold:
It’s an homage to the bygone era when writers like Charles Dickens published their novels in newspapers one chapter at a time before collecting the work in book form. Kindle Serials is not likely to amount to a giant revenue stream for Amazon, which will ring up more than $60 billion in sales this year. But listening to the way Bezos talks about the history of serialization, you get a glimpse of his concept of customer feedback — and how Amazon acts on it. “Even in Dickens’s day, he would take notice of the criticism of the prior installments and use it to his advantage,” he says.
In 2003, Bezos gave a TED talk about innovation. He noted that innovation perpetuates additional shifts, saying, “Every new thing creates two new questions and two new opportunities.” You can watch the talk here:
Amrita Jayakumar and Jan Friedmann contributed to this report.