Here is what just happened this afternoon, with no warning: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is estimated to be more than $25 billion, just purchased the Washington Post. By himself. What?
According to the STAGGERING SHOCKING WTF announcement just posted by the Washington Post Company, Bezos himself (not Amazon) is paying $250 million for the company's entire newspaper publishing business, which is the WaPo along with a handful of smaller papers. "Slate magazine, TheRoot.com and Foreign Policy are not part of the transaction and will remain with The Washington Post Company, as will the WaPo Labs and SocialCode businesses, the Company’s interest in Classified Ventures and certain real estate assets, including the headquarters building in downtown Washington, DC." Fourth-generation Graham family publisher Katherine Weymouth— who just yesterday was profiled in the New York Times for her grand leadership role at the Post, lololol— will remain in her position for the time being, as will WaPo editor Marty Baron and bad editorial page editor Fred Hiatt.
The purchase price amounts to less than 1% of Bezos' wealth. The Washington Post Company will be changing its name soon.
This quote is quite reminiscent of the faux-tortured soul searching that went on in the Bancroft family when Rupert Murdoch purchased the Wall Street Journal from them in 2007 at a huge premium to its book value:
“Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about” selling The Post, said Donald Graham, the Post Co.’s chief executive, in an interview Monday. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings.”
What the media world is wondering now is: Why the fuck did Jeff Bezos buy the Washington Post? And what are his grand plans for it going forward? “'I don’t want to imply that I have a worked-out plan,' he said. 'This will be uncharted terrain and it will require experimentation.'”
Washington Post employees should now be dying of terror. And, uh, excitement!
This is all still a shock. But we can surmise that the Graham family, longtime proud guardians of the WaPo legacy, saw a golden opportunity to take the money and run. (The paper confirms that the Graham family hired an investment bank to shop the paper around.) The Wall Street Journal sold six years ago for $5 billion; the WaPo is selling for 1/20th of that. That's the direction the newspaper business is headed. It is becoming a boutique business for extremely rich people— a way for them to luxuriate in the prestige, and cultural respect, and political influence that newspapers still command, to some extent. How this shit will turn out is anyone's guess.
Update: As WaPo reporters begin considering the conflicts of interest that will come along with having Bezos as their boss, here is a special one for the paper's vaunted national security desk: Amazon recently landed a $600 million contract to build an entire cloud computing system for the CIA. The company is reportedly staffing up on engineers with top secret clearance. Does Jeff Bezos have top secret clearance? That would be something that the Washington Post might want to think about, considering how much reporting their journalists have done on the topic. A huge CIA contractor is now Dana Priest's boss. Think about that.
[WaPo. Image by Jim Cooke]