Why Jeff Bezos' Purchase of The Washington Post May Not Be Good for America

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A couple of my more well known friends in social media (especially David Jacobs) are surprised that there haven’t been more negative or questioning comments about Jeff Bezos purchase of The Washington Post from The Washington Post Company.  I don’t think I am influential enough to get much attention for my views, but I’ll state them in case anybody wants to comment.

Perhaps Bezos Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Purchase A Media Outlet of Record in This Fashion

It stretches the bounds of credibility to say “Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days” because content distribution policies can be engineered to favor Amazon.com’s business model.

If this did not happen, I would be shocked.

Contrast this turn of events with what the Department of Justice wants to do to alter Apple’s iTunes business as a result of the Government’s victory in a recent anti-trust case.

The Government’s interpretation of Apple’s business dealings with book publishers turns decades of anti-trust policy on its head.  Rather than promote competition or investigate the possibility that Amazon is guilty of predatory pricing, the Government chose to focus mainly on the consumer benefit of the low prices that Amazon.com is currently offering for e-books and how Apple’s deals with publishers gave the publishers some pricing power.

A return to Amazon’s previous e-book pricing strategy will perpetuate Amazon’s dominant position in the e-book distribution business and disadvantage everyone on the content creation side of the market, including publishers, authors, and service providers to them.

If the value of some of those disadvantaged businesses fall far enough then Bezos can swoop in as he did with The Washington Post, purchase the business at a discount (to the value it might have if it had retained some pricing power), and re-engineer the business model to feed the technically un-afilliated business Amazon.com that Bezos also controls.

It’s not hard not to conclude that the Government is picking winners, even if the Department of Justice had no knowledge of Bezos’ interest in purchasing the Post.

Update on August 7: Bloomberg points out another possible conflict with public interest that I hadn’t even considered.  Amazon.com ranks among the biggest spenders among high-technology companies seeking to influence the work of the federal government.

This Purchase Avoids Hard Choices for The Washington Post that Could Have Benefitted American Society

The Washington Post is one of the most prestigious media outlets using the business model that most traditional newspapers adopted on the Internet.  That business model failed to check the revenue losses associated with the progressive switch from physical to electronic distribution of news.

At this point newspapers need to re-evaluate their entire business, including seemingly unrelated issues such as editorial policy.

]]>In his letter to The Washington Post staff, Jeff Bezos said:

So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.

“The paper’s duty… to its readers” whitewashes the fact that, over time, the readers of The Washington Post have become less representative of the Washington area and America as a whole.  The readership is demographically concentrated in segments of society that are both rich and politically progressive.

Media outlets of record should not be odious to the supporters of any mainstream political movement in America.  Far too many of these outlets are either so progressive or so conservative that they are neither trusted nor read by a significant part of the population.

The effort to cater to specific audiences has resulted in distortion of the truth and further loss of distribution.  This is not just bad for business, it’s bad for American government and national community.