March 20, 2023

Bezos, Amazon’s Founder, to Buy The Washington Post

Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Company, and the third generation of the Graham family to lead the paper, told the staff about the sale late Monday afternoon. They had gathered together in the newspaper’s auditorium at the behest of the publisher, Katharine Weymouth, his niece.

“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),” Mr. Graham said in a written statement.

In the auditorium, he closed his remarks by saying that nobody in the room should be sad — except, he said, “for me.”

The announcement was greeted by what many staff members described as “shock,” a reaction shared in newsrooms across the country as one of the crown jewels of newspapers was surrendered by one of the industry’s royal families.

In Mr. Bezos, The Post will have a very different owner, a technologist whose fortunes have risen in the last dozen years even as those of The Post and most newspapers have struggled. Through Amazon, the retailing giant, he has helped revolutionize the way people around the world consume — first books, then expanding to all kinds of goods and more recently in online storage, electronic books and online video, including a recent spate of original programming.

In the meeting, Mr. Graham stressed that Mr. Bezos would purchase The Post in a personal capacity and not on behalf of Amazon the company. The $250 million deal includes all of the publishing businesses owned by The Washington Post Company, including the Express newspaper, The Gazette Newspapers, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Fairfax County Times, El Tiempo Latino and Greater Washington Publishing.

The Washington Post company plans to hold on to Slate magazine, The and Foreign Policy. According to the release, Mr. Bezos has asked Ms. Weymouth to remain at The Post along with Stephen P. Hills, president and general manager; Martin Baron, executive editor; and Fred Hiatt, editor of the editorial page.

Mr. Bezos, who did not attend the meeting at The Post on Monday, said in a statement that he had known Mr. Graham for the past decade and said about Mr. Graham that “I do not know a finer man.” Ms. Weymouth said that in negotiating this deal, Mr. Bezos made it clear he was not purely focused on profits.

The sale, at a price that would have been unthinkably low even a few years ago, represents the end of eight decades of ownership by the Graham family of The Post since Eugene Meyer bought The Post at auction on June 1, 1933. His son-in-law Phillip L. Graham served as president of the paper from 1947 until his death in 1963. Then Graham’s widow, Katharine Graham, oversaw the paper through the publication of the Pentagon Papers alongside The New York Times and its coverage of Watergate, the political scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and also a starring role for the newspaper in the film, “All The President’s Men.”

The Post’s daily circulation peaked in 1993 with 832,332 average daily subscribers, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. But like most newspapers, it has suffered greatly from circulation and advertising declines. By March, the newspaper’s daily circulation had dropped to 474,767.

The company became pressed enough for cash that Ms. Weymouth announced in February that it was looking to sell its flagship headquarters. According to a regulatory filing associated with the sale, Mr. Bezos will pay rent to The Post Company on the space for up to three years.

Michael D. Shear, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 5, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the middle initial of the founder of He is Jeffrey P. Bezos, not Jeffrey K.

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Newsweek, Sold in 2010, Is Changing Hands Again

The announcement, which was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, was made on Saturday evening. Etienne Uzac, co-founder and chief executive officer of IBT Media, said in a statement: “We are thrilled to welcome this iconic brand and global news property into our portfolio. We believe in the Newsweek brand and look forward to growing it, fully transformed to the digital age.”

Justine Sacco, a spokeswoman for IAC/InterActiveCorp, which currently owns Newsweek, confirmed the sale, but declined to comment further.

At Newsweek’s peak in 1991, when The Washington Post Company owned it, its circulation was 3.3 million, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. But the magazine suffered many of the troubles facing the print media industry as more readers migrated to the Web for news.

Sidney Harman, a billionaire investor, bought Newsweek from The Washington Post in 2010 for $1 and assumed $40 million in liabilities. He then merged it with The Daily Beast, the Web site owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp. Both entities were run by Tina Brown.

But in 2011, Mr. Harman died, leaving IAC and Ms. Brown to handle the burden of keeping the magazine afloat. Last fall, Newsweek announced that it would stop publishing a print edition at the end of the year. In May, Ms. Brown told her staff that the company planned to sell now to concentrate on building up The Daily Beast.

A statement released by IBT stressed that the sale did not involve the purchase of The Daily Beast. It also noted that the company planned to return Newsweek to its original Web site,, in the coming weeks and build Newsweek’s global online franchise.

“We are 100 percent digital with a track record of successfully growing online media properties,” said Johnathan Davis, co-founder and chief content officer of IBT Media, in a statement. “The Newsweek brand is strong around the world, and we believe there is significant potential to leverage that.”

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Media Decoder Blog: Paywall Push: Washington Post Hops Over Picket Fence

G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times

When The Wall Street Journal broke the news that The Washington Post was likely to start charging for online content sometime next year, it should not have come as a surprise, but it did.

The shock had something to do with the certainty that Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company, has always displayed on the subject. He has long had serious reservations about putting the work of his company’s journalists behind a wall. According to GigaOm, he explained it in the following way to Walter Isaacson at an Aspen Institute event:

The New York Times or Wall Street Journal … can say we’re going to charge, but we’re not going to charge you if you subscribe to the newspaper. The Washington Post circulates in print only around Washington, D.C., but way over 90 percent — I think over 95 percent of our Internet audience is outside Washington, D.C. We can’t offer you that print or online choice. So, the pay model would work very differently for us.

But now The Post is contemplating a model in which the homepage and section fronts will be free, but the rest will require a subscription, which is a pretty nifty way to allow for snacking while hoping that people stick around to eat.

So what changed? Everything and nothing.

The Post, give or take elections, is still a regional business. But the newspaper has been working the cost side of the ledger relentlessly and reaching diminishing returns. New revenue had to become part of the picture at some point.

The Post is hardly alone. As Poynter suggested on Friday: “More than 360 United States papers will charge for digital content by the end of the year, says News Tech, including Gannett, Tribune, MediaNews, Media General papers now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and of course The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Coming next year are E.W. Scripps, McClatchy and others.”

So, as newspapers all hold hands and begin to erect gated communities, will there be a new stability? Hardly.

What is under way is a reset. The trend in ad revenue in the newspaper industry is breathtaking — see a very scary chart here from Alan D. Mutter — and inexorable. The now hoary question of what part of the crater is cyclical, meaning temporary, and what part is secular, meaning a permanent disruption, has been settled. The advertising business is not coming back and there is every reason to believe that in the years ahead the shrinking will continue apace.

The subscription model represents a moment of truth for publishers, who are owning up to the fact that they will be operating as smaller businesses, with smaller audiences. Charging the most loyal, motivated readers is way of a battening down the hatches and saying, “Let’s see what kind of newsgathering our tribe of readers will support.” (It has the ancillary benefit of protecting legacy circulation because people who pay for print feel less like suckers and generally receive digital as a bolt-on to their subscription.)

Much has been made of the success of The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, but generalizing the results of business newspapers that publish actionable information (and can often be expensed) is probably not a good idea. For different reasons, The New York Times’s positive experience with online subscriptions is probably not one that will scale across the industry. As a national newspaper with international resources, The Times is fishing in a pool of many millions of potential readers, so the fact over a half a million of that audience has opted in is a good sign for the organization, but not necessarily for the industry.

Mr. Graham noted that The Boston Globe, the former home of the incoming Post editor Martin Baron and a high-quality publication, had just 25,000 people sign up. That is a scary low number. But it is a place to begin.

Wall Street, not much of a fan of newspaper companies in the last few years, is lapping up the pay-to-play strategy. After years of decline, share prices of publicly traded newspapers are steady or up slightly, as Rich Edmonds pointed out.

One of the benefits of subscriptions that is only beginning to be explored is the more valuable readership they create. Yes, on the Internet, aggregators can easily reproduce the product that took hard work and great expense to create, but the customers who have opted in with cash money to read a site cannot be so easily replicated.

Behind the pay wall is a more loyal customer, one that a publisher has a deeper relationship with and can sell to at a premium. It is, in a sense, a renewal of the now-ancient magazine concept of “wantedness.” Magazines charged more for their customers because they had chosen to subscribe. And you can’t buy the audience that paid to read, say,, anywhere but

It’s been a weird evolution to watch. Pay walls, long the bête noir of evangelists of a free and open Internet, are almost sexy right now.

Many of the experiments — and that’s really what they are — are bound to have brutal results. On a practical level, a subscription is both a convenience charge and a measure of the size of the core following for a given publication on the Web.

If consumers visit your site often enough and bump into a wall for content they wanted to read, some portion of them are going to succumb and hand over their credit card data. That’s part of the reason the experiment with The Daily failed. You can’t stumble across content in an app, and no one is going to pay for what they don’t know they are missing.

Those who do not have compelling content, or are merely reproducing commodity information — that is, information that can easily be found elsewhere — are not going to generate much traction. In an odd way, it is a return to the days of multiple newspapers in the same market.

It is going be a dogfight for the small number of consumers who are willing to pay. Many newspapers, crippled by years of disinvestment, will not be able to make a compelling argument that they are providing something worth paying for. And life inside that sort of gated community could get mighty lonely.

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Business Briefing | Media: Washington Post Company Posts Third-Quarter Profit

Opinion »

Op-Ed: Hitting the Road

Bill Rodgers is closing his last running store, marking a sad farewell to a bygone era of great American runners.

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