Sunday, August 11, 2013

On Writing & Publishing — On Paper And On Screen, Who Has The Content And Who Can Deliver It?

Jeff Bezos

I’m not the first person to say it and, in fact, many who said it earlier have moved on. But in the book, film and news/information business, it will all boil down to content and delivery. This is why the purchase of The Washington Post is so stunning. Whatever Jeff Bezos’ original intent, we may never know. Maybe he just likes a challenge, doing what some deem as impossible.  It would be a hell of an accomplishment. Of course, owning a newspaper like the Post gives him prestige and significant influence in D.C.— though there is no indication that he is driven politically. Given his unconventional, often criticized creation of Amazon, my bet is that what will come out of this is another major transformation in the digital sweep of business and culture. 

It should be noted that the Post purchase wasn’t made by Amazon, but by Bezos personally — change from the penny jar on his chest of drawers.

For now, the publishing world is in a tizzy.  This is another tizzy.  If the big book publishers and big box booksellers got caught with their technological pants down, so too the newspaper owners.  Bezos, giant slayer, has to be scaring those pants all the way off people who deliver the news the same way they did in 1940 — on huge sheets of paper that have to be printed, cut, folded, stacked and physically delivered.  The newspapers eventually responded, by putting their papers online.  It was a defensive, reluctant and largely thoughtless conversion. Not one of them have been able to successfully monetize their hastily-crafted web sites to the extent needed for them to pay for the actual getting of the news.  Conventional wisdom confirmed the original diagnosis: Death.

Warren Buffett
But for all the fretting about the painfully slow and keenly observable death of newspapers, something doesn’t make sense.  Money-making Guru Warren Buffett is now gobbling up daily newspapers around the U.S. at a time when most financial experts think the newspaper business has as much future as pay telephones and VHS. None of Buffett’s 30 smaller metro dailies and 40 weekly papers have the stature or circulation of The Washington Post, but at the rate Buffet is going he’ll have those little tacks covering the entire U.S. map. There are some major papers for sale. Rumors suggest the Koch Brothers are flirting with a major newspaper purchase that could include the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and the Orlando Sentinel.  Some are claiming that billionaire NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg hates The New York Times so much he might buy it. “Not for sale,” say the Times owners.

In the ‘70s, rich folk sought respect by buying a Picasso. Now they buy dying newspapers?   Still with all these major players, something is going on. My take is that Amazon’s Bezos is the one to watch.

Half of the Koch Brothers
None of the others have the experience in content and delivery.  Amazon, don’t forget, is well more than a bookseller. It is a book publisher, a film and video distributor operating in a sophisticated but easily accessible environment. Amazon has also become a broad-based on-line retailer. How difficult could it be for the Washington Post, a highly respected newspaper firmly entrenched in our nation’s capitol, coupled with a company already connected to perhaps one of the largest paying data bases ever to set up the Post as our first true nation’s newspaper?

Our national newspaper (sorry U.S.A Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) is ready each morning on our TV set or pad or phone where we have the option of reading the news in story form or watching it in video form or any way we want.  You choose.  Mix ‘em up if you want as you sip your coffee made with beans that arrived yesterday from Amazon.  Slip on the shoes FED Ex delivered last Friday and go to work.  Dinner will arrive late afternoon. When you get home, check out the Post for any updates, order that new Stephen King Book as well as a download of The Godfather for tonight.  When you’re ready, heat up Amazon’s Bistro dinner in the microwave and uncork a bottle of Bezos Bordeaux.

Amazon can deliver — anything.  The content not only exists, but if you’re worried, Amazon will see that is written, that it will be filmed or constructed or grown. And it will be delivered.  All systems are in place.

Disclosure:  Over the years my books, like hundreds of thousands of others, have been available on Amazon in a variety of formats. All of he above is pure opinion.

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