A look at the exciting possibilities for the future of The Washington Post
No, no one has called it that yet, at least not that I’ve seen, but news of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos $250 million acquisition of The Washington Post has certainly rocked the industry. So, first things first, why even do this? At $250 million, the acquisition of The Washington Post is a great experiment on cross-platform selling, and for only 1 percent of Bezos’ personal fortune. But from the point of view of an advertiser or an agency, what would I expect? What would I want?
First, an outrageously seamless Web and mobile experience would be a minimum. One of the first things everyone spoke about was that The Washington Post was the first old media vehicle ever bought by a Web native; that is, someone who grew up on the Web and is an absolute expert. One would expect that this Web native would join all possible news delivery platforms into a single unit.
Second, a completely seamless buying experience. I think it is a given that, at least on the Web and mobile versions, there will be some kind of link to some of the products sold at Amazon. This could apply to both the editorial and the commercial content.
From an editorial perspective it would be easy to link, say, a column on Trinidad and Tobago with a package tour for Trinidad and Tobago or, say, a tech column review of three tablet computers with the ability to purchase each of them at Amazon.
On the commercial side this could also have several directions. Local merchants could offer the possibility of customers ordering from Amazon and not buying from the local store, probably increasing their sales, because some people might be too busy to go to a store. National merchants would have the option of advertising in local editions, as customers could order directly from Amazon.
Amazon already offers a huge amount of customized and local deals, so that would be a simple exercise.
Not-So-Obvious Added Possibilities
First off, The Washington Post could become a leading national newspaper fairly quickly. The ability to customize news delivery over the Internet and on smartphones can create a national brand that rivals The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, the only two national newspaper brands in the U.S. A key aspect is that the printed paper is not really needed; Web and mobile can carry the brand successfully.
Cloud-based news retrieval would be an option. It would be feasible for Amazon to implement a cloud-based Lexis/Nexis-like news archive. This could effectively compete with Google and premium databases.
Ultimate customization would also be a valuable possibility. An obvious product ripe for improvement is zoning. Zoned editions are, of course, old news (no pun intended). However, Amazons proven technology can customize it a step further, where a paper could be delivered in zones significantly smaller than ZIP codes. This opens up commercial avenues for improved FSIs (still a big moneymaker), sampling and direct marketing.
However, there are some other more futuristic but absolutely doable twists:
- Content-specific newspapers: For example, if I never read the sports section, why bother printing a sports section for me? If I indicate that I am into gourmet cooking, why not get a Living Today section with more food and restaurant content? And if the publisher can deliver highly engaged readers who actively request a specific section, can they charge advertisers more for them?