Archive for category Media

What Jeff Bezos must do to save The Washington Post

Four ways the Amazon.com founder can revolutionize the Post — and an industry (more food for thought for John Georges @ The Advocate…)
A Kindle with every Post subscription? Not so far-fetched, as Jeff Bezos is widely expected to try to remake the news industry.

Ben Fischer, Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal

The Washington Post still has profound business challenges. But in two months, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos will bring a $25 billion fortune and a reputation for patience to the table as its new owner.

After announcing the deal, Bezos said “there is no map” for turning around a seven-year revenue slide at the newspaper. But the digital media world nonetheless exploded with brainstorms about what might emerge when the tech-age innovator behind the world’s largest online retailer gets a hold of an old-line media establishment.

The possibilities are virtually endless, says Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor and tech CEO who blogs about the news industry. “It’s no fun talking about newsroom layoffs, no fun talking about collapsing circulation or falling advertising revenues, or closing bureaus,” Mutter said. “It doesn’t get us anywhere. This finally gets us somewhere, potentially.”

Readers could notice subtle changes in the way the Post conducts its usual news business in short order. Other evolutions into entirely new business lines might play out over a long time. Some changes may jar traditional readers; others may present vexing ethical questions.

For instance, when Bezos transplants his “customer first” mindset to the Post, which customers does he mean? Advertisers or readers? They have very different interests.

Details are almost entirely a matter of speculation, but few companies will be watched more closely than The Washington Post in the coming years, as Bezos looks for a new way to make money off covering the news. What will readers see?

In order of increasing complexity, here are the most prominent theories being bandied about this week:

1. More Amazon.com-style functions in the newspaper experience.

Imagine advertising on the Washington Post iPad app that lets you buy the product with a click. Or one-click/automated verification for subscription holds, digital accounts and new subscriptions.

“I think probably the low-hanging fruit is how they reduce the friction when people deal with us in the customer service function,” said Ken Doctor, a consumer media analyst for Outsell Inc., a California based analytics firm.

It could even mean reconsideration of the new paid-access model to its website, a tactic rapidly being embraced by the news industry — but one that’s at odds with Amazon’s philosophy of centering all decisions around the customer experience, said Brad Stone, a veteran reporter who has a book out in October about Bezos.

“What is less customer-focused than a pay wall?” he told the Post in follow-up coverage. “You’re making it harder for people to read your story at the same time there’s an abundance of competition.”

2. Make it personal, like Netflix. Or Amazon.

Expect Bezos to push a more personalized experience for readers, a concept newspaper editors have preached for years with limited success in executing.

The revenue potential is significant. Consider: The Post owns decades of archives text, photographs and even videos, and its newsroom produces new content virtually continuously. But most customers can readily see only what’s been produced in the last few days, and selected by editors for inclusion in particular sections of the website.

In a bid to escape that model, the newspaper launched Trove, an aggregation tool, in 2011. But it hasn’t gotten much traction, Doctor said, and newspapers’ attempts to customize its content pale compared with Amazon’s. Also, the Post developed its Social Reader, a Facebook app that automatically distributes stories to readers’ friends.

“Consumers are increasingly voting with their thumbs, picking and choosing the content when they want to read,” Mutter said. “[Bezos] understands that in his soul.”

What’s the most familiar aspect of the Amazon experience? Its “recommended for you” feature, the eerily accurate algorithm that predicts your future shopping habits.

That functionality on a news website could be a gold mine to advertisers demanding precision instead of breadth in their marketing — in particular advertisers eager to reach The Post’s national and international audience. It’s those readers who value the newspaper’s federal government and political coverage but have little value to traditional ad buyers.

3. B-to-B, on steroids.

The secret to expanding revenue may be found in a business-to-business strategy — that is, selling The Post’s digital products and journalistic content to other platforms, other journalists and Web developers, said Wolf Ruzicka, CEO of EastBanc Technologies, an outside developer who has worked with The Post.

An easy place to start is to make The Post the default news app on Kindles, and to embed Post video at Amazon Instant Video. But the paper has back-end digital products that also could be monetized, he said.

“To only embed it in the original content on Washingtonpost.com or the newspaper and their iPad app, it’s a lost opportunity,” Ruzicka said.

Another writer said The Post’s news content could ultimately look more like content created by reporters for Reuters and Bloomberg, where the news is merely a complementary feature designed to sell the core product of business information. Expect Bezos to focus more on finding new ways to distribute Post information instead of focusing only on its existing, self-branded channels.

4. Research and development.

The Graham family is keeping WaPo Labs, a relatively new development arm of The Post. But the newspaper assets Bezos is getting also include a development group, and both buyer and seller have agreed to a close working relationship after the deal closes.

Closed off from the demands of shareholders, Bezos will have his own fortune and The Post assets to play with.

Of course, this covers only what technology and news experts today can anticipate as the starting points for Amazon-style thinking to infect The Post, and even those might take years to emerge. But the sheer amount of tinkering could rise to new heights, Mutter said.

“It will probably be one of the most elaborate and forward-thinking skunkworks in the modern world of publishing,” Mutter said. “He could be the Gutenberg of our time.”

Maginnis: Newspaper Rivalry Good for Readers

By Louisiana-based political columnist John Maginnis

When I was growing up in Baton Rouge , after my family moved there from New Orleans just before I was born, the Times-Picayune was thrown in our yard each morning. After school, I would get on my bike to deliver the State-Times, the afternoon counterpart of the then-called Morning Advocate.

Besides the paper route, I’ve never worked for either paper (this is a syndicated column), but like most of their dual readers, their newly engaged business rivalry holds my attention as much as any stories they publish these days.

On May 1, both papers ran front-page banner headlines announcing their big changes: GEORGES BUYS ADVOCATE and T-P ADDING NEWSSTAND TAB 3 DAYS A WEEK.

The great south Louisiana newspaper war is on. This one is unlike those from the early 20th century in big cities, when the struggle was between two established papers rooted in the same market. New publisher John Georges plans to expand on the Baton Rouge Advocate’s recent incursion into New Orleans , while the Picayune prepares to defend its turf with its new tabloid, TP Street , to be published on three of the four days of the week on which it has stopped printing. The Picayune also is making a foray into the capital with its new tabloid BR, while both companies will compete digitally through their websites.

It is an audacious move by Georges to buy a newspaper that one member of the owning Manship family said was not worth what he was offering to pay. Such an assessment by a seller would give the ordinary buyer pause. But Georges is nothing if not confident, optimistic and driven.

He built a family fortune into a much bigger one that supplies grocery and convenience stores and services cigarette and video poker machines. He will say that gambling makes up only a small part of his holdings, but Georges Enterprises, which he founded, is a major player in the state’s video gaming industry.

With those businesses producing enormous cash flow, Georges has estimated his net worth at about $100 million. But men richer than he have lost more than that by trying their hands at newspaper publishing. (Ask Chicago real estate tycoon Sam Zell what owning the Tribune did to his bottom line.)

Georges becomes a publisher after running unsuccessfully for governor in 2007 and for mayor of New Orleans in 2010, making him a Louisiana-style William Randolph Hearst in reverse.

In his brief career as a politician (who’s to say it’s over?), he distinguished himself as one of the more colorful characters of the post-Edwards era. The man would say anything, and on the record. My favorite quip of his came after Bobby Jindal, then running for governor in 2007 as was Georges, delivered his wife’s baby in their Kenner bedroom when there was no time to get her to Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge . While others heralded Jindal’s heroics, Georges faulted him for “poor planning.”

In those days, Georges loved talking to political reporters, helpfully telling them how they should write their leads. To succeed as publisher he will need to resist that temptation, mighty as it is.

The daunting challenge facing him is to publish separate editions for two vastly different communities. The two cities have grown somewhat closer since Hurricane Katrina, but the remaining gap can still be as wide and impenetrable as the great swamp that lies between them.

To increase its New Orleans circulation to the point where it can compete for advertising, the new Advocate needs to offer a product that is embraced and not just accepted, while not losing the connection to its hometown readers.

TP Street needs to be more than a day filler if the Picayune is to woo back former subscribers who feel jilted by not having their daily paper on their front steps every morning.

The solution for both, of course, is to beat each other to the best stories and to better capture the cultural vitality of both cities. Doing so will require big long-term investments for both companies, with the dividends to be reaped by better informed and entertained readers. How this all plays out could foreshadow the future of daily journalism across the land. The whole newspaper world is watching. Gentleman, start your presses.