It begs the question why a technology entrepreneur like Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of amazon.com, would be interested in gripping the controls of the flailing pages of the Washington Post.
Bezos is a techie, graduating in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering, and working in Wall Street before establishing amazon.com.
With print circulation in the Washington Post in decline, Bezos may simply have bought the paper because he can, for prestige. He may see himself as a media baron of the digitised type, the likes we haven’t seen before. A saviour (of sorts) of an extinguishing news form, to an intangible format – an eNews reader, perhaps.
But, I hear you say, what about media‘s role in democracy? Who will hold our institutions to account if technology controls the dissemination of our news content, and neoliberal ideology surges forth with profit as the mainstay?
Harry Browne, lecturer in the School of Media at Dublin Institute of Technology said “it would be a mistake to assume that something really profound is going on here or that Bezos has definite plans beyond the acquisition of an interesting plaything”, adding “rich people who have no connection to journalism have been buying into newspapers for generations”.
However, from a business perspective, entrepreneurs like Bezos don’t buy a floundering newspaper or any other business, without some type of plan to make it viable; after all, “a man without a plan is not a man”, according to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Bezos’ corporate technology skills may have the answer to monetising digital news on the Internet, thus providing a much sought-after model for the survival of news organisations, while adding to his fortune. If they do, he is keeping it very quiet.
Bezos and amazon.com have been accused of undermining the book trade in Ireland, where literature and books are held in high esteem. Book shops find it difficult to compete with the online retailer and both Hughes and Hughes and Waterstones have closed down in the last couple of years. In 2012 in the UK, one book shop per week closed down.
Earlier this month, France approved a law to protect independent book shops from online retailers like Amazon, who discount new books and sell them to consumers with free delivery; the Irish government should do the same.
Nevertheless, Nick Mansfield, owner of Bookmart and Game Xchange on Talbot Street, the longest established independent game and book shop in Dublin, uses Amazon to his advantage. “I sell books and video games on Amazon and even though the postage can cost €5, it is still worth it”, he said, “and we don’t need our own website”, he added.
Mansfield’s book shop has been on Talbot Street for more than 20 years, but like most retailers, the continuing difficult economic climate has taken its toll. “It’s Saturday afternoon and the shop is quiet”, Mansfield said.
Bezos has some hand-held device up his sleeve and it may not be altogether democratic or media friendly. He is aware reading on a screen for long periods of time is not something we like to do, hence his new Kindle Paper White, with a high contrast screen display and dark text against a brilliant white background; perfect for reading the news.