When billionaires get adventurous, they buy — or build — media empires. Often first buy, then build. Think William Randolph Hearst. Howard Hughes. Ted Turner. Charles Foster Kane.
America’s latest “magnate turned mogul” is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who stunned the media world this week by purchasing The Washington Post, a 136-year-old icon of the paper-and-ink era. Bezos is widely seen as symbolic of the forces that have killed or crippled so much legacy media.(Goodbye hardcopy books and bookstores; hello Kindle.) That’s why Bezos becoming the Post’s white knight strikes many as ironic — to put it mildly. It’s as if the Internet, having defeated legacy media in a savage 15-year war, is now launching a digital Marshal Plan to rescue its defeated foe from starvation and death.
The question everyone is asking now: what will Bezos do with his new property? Will he be a benevolent, hands-off owner who funds the fearless investigative reporting and astute political analysis that define the Post’s brand at its best? Or will he turn the Post into a tame Amazon advertising platform?
My prediction: Bezos has bought his media property; now he’s poised to build his media empire. He will lead the media world to a new synthesis, combining the best of legacy and digital media. Specifically, the “Amazon Post” will:
- Go mobile, all the way: Look for Bezos to make Kindle the preferred channel while aggressively embracing all mobile platforms. A personalized, context-aware, mobile-first experience could bring the Post and similar brands back to life: relevant, exciting, realtime-current.
- Get smart about Big Data: Nate Silver – enough said. Media companies need to leverage Big Data and predictive analytics, not just to create interesting new content but also to make business decisions. Bezos’s Amazon pioneered in analytics, personalization and prediction for online retail. Big Data could help legacy media do likewise, predicting customer churn to empower media to intervene at the right moment, predict engagement with content and advertising based on audience segment, and better manage subscription acquisition costs.
- Deliver personalized experiences: Personalized news will empower media companies to deliver the right content, at the right time, within the right context to the right person. Combining semantic, sentiment and virality scores, and feeding my personal history of content choices into the mix, publishers can predict which articles I’ll want in my news feed or push alert. Think Amazon’s personalized shopping experience, translated to the Post.
- Super-charge local monetization and leverage social amplification: Traditionally, media companies owned advertising from local businesses and individuals – both in the form of display and classifieds. Mobile provides yet another opportunity where there is no clear winner yet for local monetization. Combining Local with Social media channels will deliver information and connect people to amazing experiences they’ll talk about at the dinner table. Mobile/social combined network effects can even revive locally sourced classified as a business.
- Abandon print, now: The man who gave us the Kindle knows that print media are drowning in red ink. Digital-only publication is the future. Why wait? Bezos won’t.
- Monetize, diversely: Just as Amazon vaulted beyond online retailing with local cloud hosting and AWS platform licensing, the Post under Bezos can move beyond the obvious combination of paid content, sponsored content and advertising. AWS for media, or a “Tech as a Service” platform, would diversify revenue streams by providing a “media house in a box” to media brands around the world.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that these predictions are based on my own experience with mobile-based platforms and toolsets that transform legacy media brands into value-added properties that are cherished by on-the-go consumers.
But that’s why I know it can be done.
It’s no secret that the legacy news media is suffering mostly from self-inflicted wounds. With the arrival of Bezos on the scene, traditional print media now has a fresh opportunity to modernize.
Helmed by Amazon’s innovative CEO, The Washington Post can lead the way, leveraging technology to reinvent text-based journalism and feature reporting, delighting readers and delivering exceptional results to advertisers in a way that works for today’s digital-mobile lifestyles.