Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Transforming the delivery of printed news

A couple of weeks ago there was the rather surprise announcement that Jeff Bezos (the Amazon founder and CRO) was buying the Washington Post. It was a purchase he made with his own considerable fortune and not as an Amazon acquisition. A move that removed the issue of how to integrate a loss-making business, into a business in which shareholders were increasingly keen to see an improvement in short-term profits.

The question that seemed to be on the majority of commentators minds was 'Why'? The newspaper business has been gradually disappearing down the sink hole for years, printed paper sales have been slowly shrinking and there are question marks over how successful the online subscription paywall has been for organisations that have introduced it. So why would one of the world's foremost web entrepreneurs have an interest?

Bezos has always been up for a challenge. He built Amazon for a start, launched the Kindle which now eclipses printed book sales. On top of that he is currently building a commercial space travel business, is raising Apollo rockets from the bottom of the ocean and attempting to build a clock that will last 10,000 years. He is not a man lacking ambition.

There has been conjecture that the purchase is merely a way of lobbying congress, or that it will allow him to control the agenda around Amazon's alleged tax avoidance. Those viewpoints can't be ignored, however there is a sound argument to say that he could be simply attempting to conquer the delivery of content online. He has already bought a stake in the Business Insider an online news property and far from trying to strip the asset, he actually invested in the quality of the title as Andrea Peterson writes in her Washington Post article:

“You might have heard that Jeff Bezos just bought us. So what does that mean for our pursuit of journalism? Taking a look at what happened to Business Insider earlier this year is a good start. Bezos joined in with the business news site’s owners to invest $5 million into building up its news and editorial operations.”

So reduction in journalistic integrity doesn’t seem likely, which means what he is most likely to bring is technical know-how. As Mike Ananny, Professor at The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, states "Amazon is really a technology infrastructure company". Ananny is spot on. Amazon’s online recommendation facility is second to none and could prove invaluable to an online news property delivering relevant content to a reader. What Bezos could therefore bring, is that core customer experience, which may make the building of more customised content experiences a more straightforward process. In turn that means he could potentially look to develop a paid content model that more accurately reflects Netflix or iTunes, than the blanket paywall blockade adopted by publishers such as News UK (formerly News International).

Ananny again states "You can take a lot of the friction-removing processes Amazon has mastered over the years and apply them to news. How do you buy a digital subscription? How do you do a vacation-hold? How do you save stories? How do you share stories? But also how do we actually read things -- how is it customised on the fly?"

This acquisition is an incredibly interesting move in terms of the future of content delivery and if a new paid content model is established it could prove invaluable to advertisers who are likely to be very keen to deliver customised messages to extremely targeted audience segments. Whatever happens as The Verge puts it “… there's going to be a huge collision between classic journalism and stunning technology.”

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