A lesson from Amazon's Jeff Bezos to media-seeking billionaires: It's worth it

Jeff Bezos paid US$250 million for the Post in 2013 - one of several of the super-rich who bought traditional media companies, in financial peril as ad dollars flowed in the billions to digital companies, especially Google and Facebook.
Jeff Bezos paid US$250 million for the Post in 2013 - one of several of the super-rich who bought traditional media companies, in financial peril as ad dollars flowed in the billions to digital companies, especially Google and Facebook.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos won acclaim by putting the Washington Post back on solid financial footing, but now he's seeing the downside of media moguldom - when your newspaper goes after powerful interests, those powerful interests go straight for the owner.

"There are a lot of reasons to buy or not to buy a newspaper," said Newsonomics media analyst Ken Doctor. "I don't think people will be more weary just because they have a target on their back."

There's no one close of course to having Bezos's profile in terms of wealth. He has a net worth of US$133.9 billion.

He paid US$250 million for the Post in 2013 - one of several of the super-rich who bought traditional media companies, in financial peril as ad dollars flowed in the billions to digital companies, especially Google and Facebook.

The founder of Salesforce.com paid US$190 million in cash for Time magazine last year. Marc Benioff is worth US$6.8 billion.

Biotechnology billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, bought the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune and Spanish-language Hoy Los Angeles in Feb 2018.

His private investment firm, Nant Capital, paid US$500 million plus US$90 million in pension liabilities. Soon-Shiong is worth US$8 billion.

John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, bought the Boston Globe in 2013 for US$70 million in cash. It now has the highest number of digital subscribers outside of what are considered the four national papers: the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, according to Doctor.

 
 

Some powerful people, US President Donald Trump being one of them, covered closely by the Post as well as every other media outlet, see Bezos as their enemy.

Ownership of a media company is, to use Bezos's word, a "complexifier."

He wrote in a blog post Thursday, "I do not at all regret my investment... My stewardship of The Post and my support of its mission, which will remain unswerving, is something I will be most proud of when I'm 90 and reviewing my life, if I'm lucky enough to live that long, regardless of any complexities it creates for me."

But many issues of media ownership are not confined to to-the-rescue billionaires, even if they have generally higher profiles.

"When you're a media owner, you're going to find someone who's trying to influence you," said Rick Edmonds, a media analyst at Poynter.