Visionary Leader Injects Leadership, Vision Into Ailing News Publisher

9446291759_3125c4f724_bIt’s been close to two and a half years since Jeff Bezos announced that he was buying the Washington Post, and much to the dismay of his detractors at the New York Times this venerable news org is doing better than ever.

The WSJ took a look at Bezos’ paper yesterday, and found it to be in a generally sound state.  While Bezos is known for taking the long view (“We are looking at the long term and not just for quick and temporary gains” said WaPo Publisher Fred Ryan), his focus on putting readers first is also proving to have an immediate benefit in the short term as well:

This year, the Post’s site has registered striking gains in traffic. In October, the Post passed its rival, the New York Times, in unique traffic for the first time. The next month it drew a record 71.6 million unique visitors, putting it right behind digital media giant BuzzFeed, according to comScore Inc. The November figure marks a nearly threefold increase in traffic since Mr. Bezos took over, and he recently boasted that the Post was on its way to becoming “the new paper of record.”

Much of the increase has coincided with an aggressive digital approach inspired by Mr. Bezos’ mandate to experiment. The website publishes an average of 1,200 pieces of content a day with increasing amounts geared toward social media. Recent examples include “15 awkward photos of world leaders that explain 2015” and a spoof video called “The Galactic Civil War” that tells the story of Star Wars as if it had been directed by documentarian Ken Burns.

The WSJ is choosing to focus on the lighter and fluffier content that many publishers are using to attract visitors from social networks, but that’s not the only way that the WaPo is attracting and keeping readers.


As you may recall, the WaPo has leveraged its filial relationship with Amazon to offer Fire tablet owners a free 6-month subscription. The WaPo isn’t saying how many new subscribers they’ve signed, but based on the reports on The Passive Voice the freebie offer is working as intended:

I would occasionally check out articles on the NYTimes but rarely WaPo. However after I got my free 6 months of WaPo I began reading it over breakfast on a daily basis– I get my local paper also, but just for the police blotter and obits. When my free subscription ended I let it go into a paid subscription. Giving away that free six months paid off with me.

These subscribers aren’t paying for the fluff; that can be found in unending quantity on Buzzfeed, etc. They keep coming back because of substantive reporting, and they’re a sign that the WaPo has solved the problem that plagues all news sites in the internet era: how to attract and keep readers without sacrificing quality.

And now that we know that Jeff Bezos can inject life and vitality into a news publisher, does anyone else want to see what would happen of Bezos bought his own book publisher and reformed it along the same lines?

Yes, Amazon has a book publishing division, but that’s not the same thing. Amazon’s publishing unit was built from scratch, but if Bezos bought a publisher it would come with existing infrastructure, business relationships, inertia, and corporate mindset.

Amazon’s publishing unit can be shunned and ignored as an outsider, but if Bezos revived a legacy book publisher then it would be harder to deny the accomplishment.

images by clasesdeperiodismoMike Licht

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. fjtorres22 December, 2015

    The funny thing it that if Bezos wanted a publisher he could buy any or all of a dozen mid-sizers out of petty cash. But he won’t because that is not the kind of Business he buys.
    Amazon buys companies with growth potential and good managers in place like Zappos, Comixology or Kiva systems. He isn’t interested in fixer-uppers.

    1. Nate Hoffelder22 December, 2015

      WaPo was a fixer upper.

  2. fjtorres22 December, 2015

    Not the paper, it wasn’t.
    It was an undercapitalized asset.
    That is why he’s left editorial alone. And why they sold it to him direct without an open auction. He didn’t clean house but instead encouraged them to spend and hire good people. That’s more like what he did at the Amazon properties.

    1. Nate Hoffelder22 December, 2015

      Go read the article again. The digital side was definitely a fixer-upper, and it reflected a company that wasn’t keeping up with the times.

  3. fjtorres22 December, 2015

    Because they didn’t have the money to hire good IT people. They’d been firing people for lack of money. A fixer upper is where you fire the top people and bring in outsiders. Which is what he’d have to do at most publishers to get rid of the toxic culture.

  4. Mackay Bell22 December, 2015

    The big publishing companies are over valued and unlikely to be sold by big media conglomerates. He couldn’t buy one on the cheap, like he did with the Post. Also, I don’t think Amazon is doing so bad with their publishing startups. They’ll win that battle in the end, especially if they start building brick and mortar stores. (And especially if traditional publishers keep raising ebook prices.)

    It also can’t be discounted that he bought the Washington Post to have influence over the US government, given how much the NY elite were clamoring for government intervention on Amazon. Owing the Post, Washington’s local paper, is a good way to get your message out.

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