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Bezos Buying The Washington Post – How Will He Leverage The Credibility of the News?

August 25th, 2013

Amid disruptive changes in readers’ habits, technology and communications, The Washington Post enters the most important transition in its 136 year history, when Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, ultimately takes over the legendary newspaper.

It certainly not a stretch to say that Bezos’ leadership qualities will be beneficial to the future of Washington D.C.’s most influential newspaper of record. Though this could be true, the real questions still remain:Will Bezos be able to convert this failing business into a fortune? And, Will this deal exemplify what Bezos has previously referred to as “Investing in the future?” or, Will Bezos be able to produce the Amazon magic yet again?

As a branding expert, I view brands as corporate assets soit is interesting to see thatThe Washington Post is being acquiredas a private investment by Bezos, and that Amazon has nothing do with it (yet). http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/06/jeff-bezos-is-buying-the-washington-post-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-sale/?wprss=rss_ezra-klein&clsrd However, the CEO of Amazon may just have what it take sand more, to deal with the issues facing the entire newspaper business itself. As Bill Gates famously said in 1996 when Microsoft ruled the world, “Content is King”, and The Washington Post is a leader in this regard.

We have reached the moment where digital has forever replaced print as our primary source for the news. Newspapers are frantically trying to reinvent themselves for digital success. There is much speculation about Bezos’ personal objectives behind owning The Washington Post. Is this a step towards gaining more influence in Washington? Just an interest in the news business or is it politically motivated? Not many people know. In fact, Jeff Bezos’ ownership could be the Perfect Digital Storm of Successfor The Washington Post.

From a strategic view, I see three major challenges that The Washington Post is facing. The first is global competition. Historically, the paper was protected by its geographical conditions. Let’s not forget, in spite of its international reputation, The Washington Post’s main competitors were the local media. Major portions of the sales generated by the legendary newspaper were from Washington, D.C itself. But now, that’s not the case anymore. In the age of Internet, the The Washington Post must compete with everyone. Just producing news, as any other paper does, may not serve the purpose. It has to differentiate itself while doing so. This could well be a significant challenge, which falls directly in my own experience repositioning legacy brands for growth as markets change. For all of his experience and success, this is one thing that Bezos has yet to do, after all Amazon was a new business. Not a small task, but an exciting one for sure.

The second is reinvention. Transition from conventional media to digital media will certainly come at the expense of something. Experimentation here requires creativity, toughness and more importantly—willingness to self-cannibalize. Making obsolete your own technology with a new innovation before your competitors do it requires a degree of boldness. And, Bezos sure has it. We have seen him employ these self-cannibalization acts with Amazon before. Don Graham knew it for certain, I assume.

The third is patience, which could also be referred to as tolerance towards failure. Not easy. The pressure from public markets neither favors reinvention nor innovation. Only a handful of CEO’s such as Bezos himself, are able to exemplify any of these attributes.Fortunately, almost none are better than Jeff Bezos in managing across all three of these fronts.

It has been almost two decades since Bezos started Amazon. His mantra of “Customer Orientation” has succeeded enormously. Even today, not many companies are able to live up to this vision as well as Amazon does.Amazon’s innovations such as fulfillment, Prime membership, the Kindle and recent efforts into music and television programming have showcased the bold approach Bezos is capable of taking, if need be. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/business/expecting-the-unexpected-from-jeff-bezos.html?smid=pl-share

I have seen this potential before when I helpedCNN develop their brand as cable confronted similar challenges two decades ago. Just as Ted Turner created Turner Broadcastingby extending CNN’s success to TNT, Turner Classic Movies, The Cartoon Network and numerous international brands as the multichannel capacity of cable exploded, Bezos has the potential to create a new broadcasting model for the Internet age. http://www.turner.com/company/history

Like Ted Turner brilliantly leveraged the Credibility of the News—Bezos now has the potential to establish his own broadcasting empire leveraging The Washington Post’s brand without geographic or format limits. Now, thanks to the Internet Bezos has the potential to fully broadcast Any Content, Anytime, in Any Format, Anywhere.So eventually he may not only revolutionize the newspaper business, but also broadcast television, cable, the music business and the movies. If we look closely, he’s already well on his way.

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