Before Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million, he had some choice words for the ailing print news industry. In a wide-ranging interview with the German paper, Berliner-Zeitung, the newly-minted media mogul said at the time that no one would bother paying for news online and print would be dead in 20 years (translation from our awesome writer, Frederic Lardinois).
“There is one thing I’m certain about: there won’t be printed newspapers in twenty years. Maybe as luxury items in some hotels that want to offer them as an extravagant service. Printed papers won’t be normal in twenty years.” said Bezos. That’s a pretty long timeline (think what happened in technology since 1993), but it does given an indication that Bezos may pressure his new newspaper to accelerate abandonment of their print version.
During the last quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post’s print division posted a 4% decline in revenue. Revenue from online publishing, mostly from Washingtonpost.com and Slate properties, increased 8% to $25.8 million.
Perhaps most importantly, Bezos claimed that, “On the Web, people don’t pay for news and it’s too late for that to change”. Last March, the Washington Post put up a metered paywall, charging readers who access more than 20 articles a month. While Bezos may not interfere with editorial, it is within his role as owner to see the paper to profitability. If Bezos thinks paywalls are misguided, we may see the Washington Post drop theirs.
Bezos did not think Kindle was the salvation of papers, since “the problem is that many readers still prefer the printed version.” There will be a significant transition period where publishers will need both digital and print.
Interestingly enough, Bezos says “We [Amazon] realized that people are willing to pay for newspaper subscriptions on tablets. In the near future, every household will have multiple tablets. That’s going to be the default and will provide momentum for newspapers, too”, so we may see some creative subscription models on the Kindle or bundled with other products.
I’m curious to see how Bezos will be applying these ideas to his newly-purchased newspaper. Either that, or he will be ‘clarifying’ his words very soon.