LOS ANGELES – Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com founder who helped bring books into the digital age, is going after another pillar of “old media”: the Washington Post.
Bezos, 49, struck a deal announced Monday to buy the venerable broadsheet and other newspapers for $250 million. The surprise news was a demonstration of how the Internet has created winners and losers and transformed the media landscape.
Bezos pioneered online shopping, first by selling books out of his Seattle garage in 1995, then by selling just about everything else. In doing so, he has amassed a net worth of $25 billion, based on the most recent estimates by Forbes magazine.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet.
The newspaper, celebrated a generation ago for breaking the Watergate scandal, has been forced in recent years to scale back its ambitions, cut its newsroom staff repeatedly and close several bureaus.
Bezos is buying the newspaper as an individual. Amazon.com Inc. is not involved.
Bezos said to Post employees in a letter distributed to the media that he’d be keeping his “day job” as Amazon CEO and a life in “the other Washington” where Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle are based.
But he made clear there would be changes, if unforeseen ones, coming.
“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 wrote. “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.”
Washington Post Co. chairman and CEO Donald Graham called Bezos a “uniquely good new owner.” He said the decision was made after years of newspaper industry challenges. The company, which owns the Kaplan college and test preparation business along with six TV stations, will change its name but didn’t say what the new name will be.
Bezos said in a statement that he understands the Post’s “critical role” in Washington and said its values won’t change.
“The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners,” Bezos said in his letter to Post employees.
He said he would follow in the footsteps of longtime publisher Katharine Graham, who died in 2001, in pursuing the truth and following important stories, “no matter the cost.”
Katharine Weymouth, the newspaper’s publisher and CEO of Washington Post Media and a member of the Graham family that has owned the newspaper since 1933, will remain in her post. She has asked other senior managers to stay on as well.
“Mr. Bezos knows as well as anyone the opportunities that come with revolutionary technology when we understand how to make the most of it,” she said in a letter to readers.
The news surprised industry observers and even the newspaper’s employees.
“I think we’re all still in shock,” said Robert McCartney, one of the newspaper’s Metro columnists and a 31-year veteran. “Everybody’s standing around the newsroom talking about it. … I don’t think much work’s getting done.”