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[Newsmaker] Amazon founder jumps into paper business

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (AP-Yonhap News)
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (AP-Yonhap News)
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos announced on Monday he would buy the Washington Post for $250 million in a surprising move. For Bezos and the embattled U.S. newspaper, the question is whether the business genius has any tricks up his sleeve to revive the paper without drastically changing its journalistic status.

Established in 1877, the influential newspaper has been owned by the Graham family for the last 80 years. The sales decision thus came as a shock, though not totally surprising given that it has confronted a slew of challenges in recent years.

Despite its stellar reporting including the Watergate scandal and more recently an exclusive report on the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden case, the newspaper recorded seven consecutive years of plunging revenues and declining subscriptions.

Although the Washington Post said Bezos was buying the newspaper as an individual and Amazon.com Inc. was not involved, pundits are speculating that possible joint projects linking the two sectors may somehow save the beleaguered traditional media outlet.

Observers, especially those who project an optimistic outlook, noted Bezos’ decision marks the first-ever case for a digital expert to take over a major U.S. newspaper rooted in the paper medium. Their logic is that his creative ideas might spur the reconfiguration of the media industry.

The 49-year-old Internet entrepreneur hinted that there would be reforms to make the company more suitable for the Internet era and online users.

“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,” Bezos said in a statement to Post employees. “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.”

Bezos did not elaborate on his plans but changes are surely set to hit the newsroom of the Post, seeing as the multi-billionaire defied all negative odds and predictions to successfully create the world’s biggest online retailer.

Bezos, who graduated from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, started to sell books online from his garage and founded Amazon.com in 1994 after quitting a Wall Street hedge fund when he “learned about the rapid growth in Internet use.”

According to Forbes, Bezos is the world’s 19th-richest person with an estimated net worth of $25.2 billion.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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