As you’ve likely heard, Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post and related media properties for $250 million. You can see some of what Bezos has in mind from his letter to the Washington Post employees. Here’s an excerpt:
“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.”
My take: I applaud Bezos for making this move. Yes, the newspaper business is going through very tough times, but let’s look at the numbers. Here’s the average amount of time that U.S. consumers spend on different media activities from Temkin Group’s Media Benchmark Study:
U.S. consumers, on average, spent 1.13 hours per day reading newspapers (on paper) in 2012, a number that dropped to .95 hours in 2012. During the same period, reading of news online increased from 1.18 to 1.37 hours. Collectively, U.S. consumers increased the time they spent reading news from 2.31 to 2.32 hours. While newspaper circulations (on paper) may be declining, news consumption is on the rise. It’s fun to think about what Bezos can do with over two hours of a consumer’s day.
So how can Bezos take advantage of this growing appetite for news? By applying Amazon’s online experience design and predictive analytics skills to build around the Washington Post’s core asset, its strong brand and its national/international journalism. Here are some ways that Bezos might Amazon-ize the newspaper experience:
- Dynamically personalized newspaper (My News): You can get news feeds from lots of sources today, but they are typically based on static preferences and pre-set search criteria. What about a daily “newspaper” that adapts over time to my needs. An Amazon-ized newsfeed would identify what I’m likely to want to read based on my profile, previous content that I’ve consumed and liked, purchases that I’ve made (including books and other products), my current location, and the content that people like me enjoy reading. If I’m someone who likes to read a daily newspaper, then it can be formatted for on-demand printing from my home.
- Suggested reading. If I’m reading a news story and want to read more on the topic, Amazone-ized news can serve up related information from relevant articles, blog posts, and other sources beyond just the Washington Post content. There may even be some books that Amazon might suggest based on the news that I’m interested in reading.
- “Give-it-A-Try” content. Online news eliminates some of the random discovery that happens when reading a newspaper, but Amazon-ized news could incorporate that into the online experience by creating a “Give it a Try” type of content that includes articles that aren’t typical for the reader’s preferences.
- Democratization of journalists. Good Washington Post journalists will shine, but marginal ones will be set aside as Amazon-ized news will reward the authors who people like to read, whether or not they are Washington Post journalists. Amazon can continue its push to enable self-publishing (as it does in Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace) in the news space, enabling some independent writers to become featured writers in the content if their work seems to be liked by a large number of people or they become very popular with a niche of consumers. (Note: Who knows, maybe Customer Experience Matters will become a popular source for the Washington Post).
- Prime bundling: Prime membership includes free two-day shipping and some free streaming movies, so why not include free subscription to some form of the Washington Post content.
- Really, really smart marketing. Understanding the content that we consume an the products that we’ve purchased will allow Amazon-ized news to provide very relevant ads, even more tailored than what Google can provide. And Amazon can find ways to embed opportunities to purchase within the content. And, anything that people want to buy is one click away from a final purchase on Amazon.
- Kindle News. Amazon can also make the Kindle a prime-time news platform. As more people get comfortable reading their books on Kindles and other mobile/tablet applications, Amazon can dominate the news delivery service. Look for Kindle News Apps on every mobile device you can think about.
What’s next? These changes won’t happen overnight. But what might be on Bezos’ roadmap if he successfully Amazon-izes the newspaper business? Yahoo! If Bezos and company can generate new value from the Washington Post’s reach and brand, think about what can be done by Amazon-ing Yahoo! This $250 million acquisition may just be a small incubator for a much larger strategy to acquire Yahoo! and take on Google. That clash of online titans would be fun to watch and good for consumers who would benefit from an accelerated pace of innovation.
The bottom line: I’m looking forward to seeing Bezos Amazon-ize the newspaper industry