Jeff Bezos made his fortune founding Amazon, and spent $250 million of his riches to buy The Washington Post in 2013.
After nearly four years running the Post, which Bezos says turned a profit in 2016 and is expected to do the same this year, Bezos has some valuable lessons to pass along to the rest of the news industry, which is struggling to compete for ad dollars against online juggernauts Google and Facebook.
According to CNBC, Bezos delivered some of this advice at the Future of Newspapers conference in Turin, Italy, on Wednesday. Here are the highlights:
- Focus on readers first, not advertisers. In response to a question about similarities between running Amazon and the Post, Bezos said: "We run Amazon and The Washington Post in a very similar way in terms of the basic approach. We attempt to be customer-centric, which in the case of the Post means reader-centric. I think you can get confused, you can be advertiser-centric — and what advertisers want, of course, is readers — and so you should be simple-minded about that and you should be focused on readers. If you can focus on readers advertisers will come."
- You can't shrink your way to relevance. When he took over, Bezos said, the Post already had an "outstanding" tech team and newsroom, and a top-notch editorial leader in Marty Baron. But the newsroom kept eliminating people, which wasn't working. "What they needed was a little bit of runway and the encouragement to experiment, and to stop shrinking. You can't shrink your way into relevance." Since then, the paper has added about 140 reporters and significantly expanded the tech team — and it's worked. "We've grown our way into profitability instead of shrinking our way into profitability."
- Don't look for a patron or expect charity. Bezos was adamant that the Post should be run as a profit-making business, and that news organizations shouldn't hold out for rich patrons who are willing to lose money indefinitely.
- Use technology, but don't be a slave to it. One thing the Post has done is create a publishing platform called Arc, which it is selling to other papers including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. It also uses data to do things like test headlines and understand how engaged readers are with particular stories.