In a surprise announcement on Monday afternoon, the Washington Post said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is buying the storied newspaper and its publishing business.
“Everyone at the Post Company and everyone in our family has always been proud of The Washington Post — of the newspaper we publish and of the people who write and produce it,” said Donald E. Graham, Chairman and CEO of The Washington Post Company in a statement. “I, along with Katharine Weymouth and our board of directors, decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for the Post.”
The Post, founded in 1877, has been struggling for years and has been slower than other major newspapers such as the New York Times at making the shift to a digital-based business. Bezos indicated he will take a hands-off approach for now; in a statement on the Post’s website, he writes:
“I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day. I am happily living in ‘the other Washington’ where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.”
The deal includes other Washington Post-owned newspapers, but not Slate magazine, Foreign Policy or TheRoot.com.
While the sale was unexpected, so, too, is the new owner. Bezos has made his name in building Amazon into a dominant book seller and then a powerhouse in retail and cloud computing, but he has not expressed interest in acquiring traditional news brands.
Bezos has no experience in the news business, but he is not the only tech baron to make a move into media. Chris Hughes, one of the early executives at Facebook, recently acquired the literary magazine New Republic.
Meanwhile, several of the buzziest big tech brands, including Twitter and LinkedIn, are trying to turn themselves into news and media giants.
It is unclear what Bezos intends to do with the Washington Post, which is renowned for breaking the Watergate scandal and amassing numerous Pulitzer Prizes for its political and foreign reporting. But as one of America’s richest men, Bezos’s arrival will no doubt be welcome by those hoping for stability at the paper, which has been in shaky financial shape for years.
A growing number of newspapers have tried paywalls to slow their sinking revenues. But the Post’s founders have long been ideologically opposed to them, on the grounds they limit access to the news. The paper finally planned to introduce a very leaky version of a paywall this summer. It has also been experimenting with “native advertising.”
This is the second major newspaper sale in the last week; on Friday, the owner of the Boston Red Sox bought the city’s storied Boston Globe from the New York Times for $70 million.
The Graham family ownership of the Washington Post goes all the way back to the middle of the last century.