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  1. Wealth
August 6, 2013

Amazon's Jeff Bezos buys Washington Post: what should we make of the rising influence of tech billionaires?

By Spear's

It would be a great shame if, as with Sergey Brin’s franken-burger, after all the cost and experimentation the end result is bland

The Washington Post has been sold to Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, in a move so secretive it even shocked the newspaper’s own investigative reporters. 

It’s unlikely that the surprises will end there. Amazon shook up the publishing industry with its online retail model and Kindle e-reader and Bezos’ statement on his new acquisition hinted at his plans for experimentation: ‘I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention,’ he said. While newspapers struggle to monetise their online offering, retain their relevance in a noisy blogosphere and manage declining circulation — the industry could do with some radical thinking.

Bezos’ move also highlights the increasing influence of the world’s tech billionaires — it comes just a day after news of Google founder Sergey Brin’s $250,000 investment in the world’s first synthetic beef burger. Having made their fortunes building up the tech companies that have, without exaggeration, shaped the way we live and do business today — these young entrepreneurs are not afraid to throw their weight behind new and different projects.

The Graham family had owned The Washington Post for 80-years, but the family-run newspaper is a dying model in the US as newspapers are snapped up by wealthy businessmen. Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones in 2007, and only the New York Times is still owned by its original family owners, the Sulzbergers. 

Newspapers are not the profitable businesses they once were; let’s hope that in the hands of the world’s wealthiest they don’t become mere playthings. While Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million, this is only 1 per cent of his estimated net worth — Bezos can afford to take risks with this investment. My hope is that he’s committed to the kind of ‘invention’ that could strengthen the newspaper industry and that The Washington Post isn’t just an expensive new toy. 

It would, after all, be a great shame if, like with Brin’s frankenburger, the critics declare that the end result — though recognisably still a newspaper — is disappointingly bland. 

Read more from Sophie McBain

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