Yes, you read that right. The Washington Post Company just announced that it has reached an agreement to sell its newspaper publishing business to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million.
“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 (after a transaction that would be in the best interest of our shareholders),” said Post Chairman and CEO Donald Graham in a press release. (The Graham family has owned a controlling stake in the Post since the 1930s.) “Jeff Bezos’ proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for the Post.”
In the same release, Bezos promises that “the Post’s values will not change.” He has supposedly asked Post CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth, President and General Manager Stephen P. Hills, Executive Editor Martin Baron, and Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt to remain in their roles.
In addition to acquiring the Washington Post itself, Bezos is also buying the Express newspaper, The Gazette Newspapers, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Fairfax County Times, El Tiempo Latino and Greater Washington Publishing. Slate magazine, TheRoot.com, Foreign Policy, Kaplan, Post–Newsweek Stations, Cable ONE, and other parts of the business will be remaining with the Washington Post company. Since it has sold off its namesake newspaper, the company will be changing its name to a yet-to-be-announced title..
Other recent media sales, such as the $70 million acquisition of the Boston Globe by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, were less surprising since the owners had publicly declared their interest in selling. (The Post’s editorial staff was taken by surprise, too.)
Just to be clear, this is a purchase by Bezos as an individual, not Amazon. Earlier this year, he also invested in the Business Insider news site.
In a letter to the Post staff, Bezos wrote:
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.
There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. 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. 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. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.