August 05, 2013

Jeff Bezos of #Amazon + #WaPost = Dark Side of the Internet

I've run a semi-regular series of blog post about "the dark side of the Internet."

It features on the drive for a few big companies, not just financially big in general, but big in how much online data they seek to gather about customers, for advertising, marketing and related purposes, and how manipulative they may be.

My focus has generally been on three or four companies in this aera, including Facebook, Google and ...

Amazon. (Click here, or the tag below, for all posts on this theme.)

So, that's why the announcement that Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, was buying the Washington Post raised my eyebrows.

Yeah, yeah, the Post is saying it's Bezos personally, not Amazon, but ...

Do you really believe there will be zero "leakage" of consumer/reader data between the two? If you do, I have a profitable newspaper in DC to sell you.

Oops, NONE of them are, at least not any of the three dailies.

Second, even if leakage is minimal, Bezos will be bringing new ideas. Allan Mutter presents a few of these right away; he's on the same page as me about some "bundling."

Anyway, the buy by Bezos alone means he doesn't have to report to Amazon's board, and it lets him take the company private. He can experiment away with its editorial and its business sides as he wants.

With that in mind, a couple of questions right off the bat.

How will this affect the Post's tentative, foot-dragging work to finally enter the world of paywalls?

Related to that, will any Amazon ads be "bundled" as part of online subscription offers? What about, per Mutter, any Amazon products?

Now, some more off the wall speculation and questions:

Update, and top question — Jay Rosen reminds me that Amazon booted Wikileaks off its servers when Team Obama and Dear Leader started putting heat on the organization and Julian Assange. Given how pliant mainstream media in general, and the Washington Post in particular (especially its editorial page) has been on this issue at times, this is not good.

Now, on to other thoughts.

Will Amazon and the Post partner to produce an online "TV" news channel, kind of like the San Diego Union Tribune is doing? (Don't tell me the paper's been renamed.)

Will Bezos pull an "Advance" and end daily home delivery?

Will he reshape the digital version to focus on mobile first?

Will he, like many newspapers have gone to Facebook-moderated comment systems on stories, try to integrate Amazon's commenting system into Post stories online?

What will this possibly do to the Post's book reviews?

I'll add more thoughts as they come to me.


 I'm also rounding up web reaction.

Henry Blodgett talks about synchronicities and symmetries that Bezos brings. Plus side? Readership on mobile devices like the Kindle Fire is zooming. Downside? Ebook readership is flat.

Megan McArdle predicts not even a Bezos can save a print version of the Post, and she's probably right. (And, note to Post CEO Don Graham: DeNial is not a river in Egypt, if you think you could have survived for years to come under current ownership. You've been leaking money like a sieve, and been belated in addressing how to fix that. You're also a liar; your own paper says you were shopping it, not that Bezos approached you unsolicited.)

And, don't forget that Bezos is no lead-pipe cinch genius; buying the now-shuttered and trying to compete with eBay show that.

Gregory Ferenstein notes that, in fact, Bezos said that himself, predicting print papers would be totally dead in 20 years. Bring on the KindlePost!

John F. Harris of Tiger Beat on the Potomac  notes that the Post has winged it for years on a business model, stranded between "metro newspaper" and "national interest newspaper." Bezos indicated he may continue the winging it for a while. Harris adds that the Graham family may have sold, in part, because they're tired of trying to figure out an online business model.

Emily Bell wonders how the KindlePost will actually cover Amazon news, and how Bezos will handle that. Per that, and per other info in her column, did Bezos buy a would-be lobbying agency?

She, and others, also note the question of, when the Boston Globe sold on the same day for just $70 million, did Bezos overpay? Is he paying for "brand"? Is he paying for what I just hinted — lobbying or other forms of "inside-the-Beltway" influence?

(That said, Jeff Henry got the Times to keep the Globe's pension obligations.)

Andrew Ross Sorkin calls newspapers billionaires' trophies. For people worried about the Koch Bros' buying the L.A. Times and/or other Tribune properties, that, and the recent pricings of the Post and Globe, should be worrisome.


These last couple of commenters also bring another issue to mind.

Just what is Bezos' politics? We know it's anti-union, and not very egalitarian, per recent stories about his company's warehouses.

And, that leads us to a couple of politics-based commenters.

Laura Bennett of The New Republic says he probably did want to buy a political "in," but doesn't offer many details about what specific issues might concern him, other than (possibly) Internet sales taxes. Bezos supports such a tax. Arguably, in part, his reasoning it's less of a burden for him than smaller online-focused companies.

Harris, linked above points out that Bezos has supported things like gay marriage.Bell, above, notes that he is providing cloud computing for the CIA, so, on snooping-related stuff, he's Beltway-stereotype friendly.

Add that to my observations of the obvious, and, we could say Bezos is some type of neoliberal. Exactly where he is on that spectrum may take a while to shake out. But, he'll likely be similar to Silicon Valley neolibs. He's pretty much that mindset.

In other words, he's somewhat of a libertarian, but neolib Dems will continue to claim him as one of theirs.

Of course, this should no surprise. He worked at a NYC hedge fund, and his parents were rich enough to lend him the money to start Amazon, per more info from the Post's story on the sale. At the same time, his refusal to look to short-term profits separates him from at least the Randian CEO-type libertarians.

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