Speaking to staff for the first time on Tuesday the Amazon founder pledged that he wants to experiment.
The Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos has given his first interview since arranging to buy the Washington Post, promising financial support and to introduce ideas gleaned from running the internet retail giant.
Speaking to the Post before meeting staff for the first time on Tuesday, Bezos said his major contribution would be to offer his “point of view” to the paper’s leadership. He also said he would provide “runway”, which the Post described as “financial support over a lengthy period in which the management can experiment to find a profitable formula for delivering the news”.
“If we figure out a new golden era at the Post … that will be due to the ingenuity and inventiveness and experimentation of the team at the Post,” Bezos said. “I’ll be there with advice from a distance. If we solve that problem, I won’t deserve credit for it.”
The interview was published on Tuesday, as Bezos was due to visit the Washington Post for the first time since agreeing to pay $250m for the newspaper in August. Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 and oversaw its growth into an omnipresent internet giant that has left him with a $22bn fortune.
“We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: put the customer first. Invent. And be patient,” he told the Post. “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at the Post, too.”
Bezos bought the newspaper from the Graham family, which had owned it since 1933, in a move that took employees and observers by surprise. David Graham, the senior Graham family member on the Post’s board, told staff that the sale was necessary for the newspaper to survive.
“In 2013 we knew was probably going to be the seventh year in a row of declining revenues, and particularly declining print advertising revenues,” he said.
Bezos will meet Post publisher Katharine Weymouth and other top managers from both the business and editorial side during his visit on Tuesday and Wednesday. He will remain CEO of Amazon and will continue living in Washington state, the Post reported.
In the Post interview Bezos indicated that his investment would be a lengthy one, with no immediate demands for financial success.
“In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort. There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don’t know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. ‘Quickly’ in my mind would be years.”
Bezos said he was aware of the problems newspapers and other journalistic outlets face.
“The Post is famous for its investigative journalism,” he said. “It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of websites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free.
“One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it … Even behind a paywall, websites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, ‘Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free’ from another site?”