Media

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos buys Washington Post for $250M

Above: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

[Disclosure: VentureBeat has a content syndication deal in place with the Washington Post, through which they republish a few of our stories every day.]

Long-running political newspaper The Washington Post has been sold to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post company announced today.

According to the company, Bezos will pay $250 million in cash for the publication, which is a little more than pocket change for the world’s third-richest billionaire. (In a possibly related development, Bezos just made about $186 million in cash from selling Amazon stock last week.)

The sale isn’t connected in any way with Amazon, which is Bezos’ main gig. The deal should be completed within the next 60 days, according to the report. Upon closing the sale, the Washington Post will change to a new name, but continue to be traded publicly. Notably, the sale doesn’t include Foreign Policy magazine, Slate.com, the Root.com, or WaPo Labs digital-development operation.

“I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan. This will be uncharted terrain and it will require experimentation,” Bezos told the Post. “But the key thing I hope people will take away from this is that the values of The Post do not need changing. The duty of the paper is to the readers, not the owners.”

The Washington Post is one of the country’s most respected publications, with a long, 136-year history of breaking big political stories. It’s perhaps best known for being the paper that broke the news of Watergate scandal back in 1974, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. (Also, there was a movie made about it called All The President’s Men that’s pretty much required viewing for anyone attending college for a journalism degree.) In recent years, however, it’s become increasingly difficult for the newspaper business to stay profitable, at the Post or really anywhere else.

“Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about selling The Post,” Washington Post chief executive Donald Graham (who is also a Facebook board member) told the paper. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings. 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.”

The Post’s report said that the Graham family, which had owned the paper for the last 80 years, was in contact with a “half dozen” potential buyers before settling on Bezos.

This isn’t the first time Bezos has dabbled in the media business. Back in April he invested $5 million in tech news network Business Insider – a publication with a very different editorial style from the Washington Post. And while the news/media business isn’t exactly a huge money-making industry anymore, it’s a good fit for Bezos, who has previously explained that he favors long-term thinking, even at the expense of short-term profits. (For example, see Amazon’s quarterly earnings reports.)

So what’s does the future hold for the Washington Post under its new owner? In a letter Bezos sent to employees, he indicates that he won’t be running things day-to-day, and will instead rely on the publication’s current management.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. 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. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.

Journalism plays a critical role in a free society, and The Washington Post — as the hometown paper of the capital city of the United States — is especially important. I would highlight two kinds of courage the Grahams have shown as owners that I hope to channel. The first is the courage to say wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake. The second is the courage to say follow the story, no matter the cost. While I hope no one ever threatens to put one of my body parts through a wringer, if they do, thanks to Mrs. Graham’s example, I’ll be ready.


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