Spectacular news broke yesterday that Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post.
Why WaPo was sold is obvious: running a newspaper sucks.
It really, really, really sucks. Let’s count the ways:
1. Craigslist took all your classifieds
2. Niche sites took your audience and your top journalists
3. No one wants dead trees on their doorstep
4. News breaks, is processed and largely resolved in the same day on Twitter
5. Some of the country’s last unions are grinding down already ground-down newspapers
It’s just a huge headache with little payoff.
Which leads us to wonder, ‘Why did Jeff do it?’
Also for that matter, why has Warren Buffett been buying dozens of small papers up over the past couple of years, and why did Red Sox owner John Henry just buy the Boston Globe?
Here are the six leading theories and what I think of each:
1. EGO: Newspapers are the new sports teams for the billionaire set
There is probably some truth to this. At some point, rich folks realize they’re gonna die with a bunch of money in the bank they never deployed in service of either their legacy, fun, society’s benefit or straight-up ego.
And it’s not just old dudes like Buffett and Sam Zell.
Facebooker Chris Hughes bought the New Republic, and some trust fund kids bought the New York Observer.
David Bradley, who bought the Atlantic, has done a spectacular job with the internet side of the business (the Atlantic Wire in particular is among the top 10 new media properties — and it seems to be a side project for them).
Jeff Bezos does have an interest in publishing. He was actually going to be the investor in my blogging company Weblogs Inc. back in the day, but we sold before I could close a deal with him. It was an awesome meeting with him, where a 20-minute coffee turned into over an hour of getting peppered with questions: How do you hire the bloggers? How did you come up with the name Engadget?
Also, Bezos just invested in Henry Blodget’s Business Insider.
Bezos has always loved intelligent debate (fixture at TED), writers (he started by selling books after all, and you see him hamming it up with writers at superagent John Brockman’s dinners) and media (Amazon Studios).
Verdict: This NOT a vanity or boredom play for Bezos. He loves media.