Jeff Bezos' purchase of the old-media Washington Post took everyone by surprise this week. Expectations are high that after pioneering e-commerce at Amazon.com and becoming a major force in digital content delivery with the Kindle tablet and Amazon Prime streaming service, Bezos will now pull off a tech-oriented reboot of the newspaper publishing industry.
He has his work cut out for him. Newspapers look like a dying breed -- and Bezos himself once predicted that in 20 years, print newspapers will be all but extinct. So what magic elixir does Amazon's founder have up his sleeve?
Bezos' statement after the purchase focused more on what he wouldn't do: Meddle with the day-to-day running of the news organization. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of specifics from the new owner, pundits have been in full swarm. Hopes generally run high for the at-first-glance unlikely pairing. As media consultant Alan Mutter writes in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, Bezos is a true digital native who "is uniquely equipped to bring unprecedented innovation and fresh energy to an industry whose managers run their businesses like the people of Cuba treat their 1953 Plymouths: tinkering with them just enough to keep them running."
For starters, look for future Kindles to ship with a free trial subscription to the Washington Post, and for Post videos to be featured in a prominent position on the Amazon Prime welcome screen. In addition to opportunities for digital content delivery, Wonkblogger Lydia DePillis notes that because Amazon "probably [has] the most efficient physical delivery system the world has seen, and print advertisements still generate a lot of the Post's revenue, [Bezos] could put a print copy in every [Amazon] package, and have a circulation of millions."
But where Bezos -- and Amazon -- really shine is at data marketing and analytics. At the new Post, Mutter says, "why couldn't every page view on every Post digital platform include helpful product recommendations based on who you are, where you are, what you have read, and what you have purchased? And remember: Amazon Prime subscribers get free, two-day shipping."
In addition to analytics, look for the Bezos-led WaPo to improve interactions with its readership. Ken Doctor, an analyst with research firm Outsell, told Wired:
The compelling fact is that Amazon has the best customer experience on the Web. If you think about customer interaction -- the relationship to a customer -- the news industry hasn't cracked that nut. They put out a lot of news. The formats on the Web, on smartphones, on tablets are OK. But they have not figured out what we might call a NetFlix for news or an iTunes for news.
You can take a lot of the friction-removing processes Amazon has mastered over the years and apply them to news. How do you buy a digital subscription? How do you do a vacation hold? How do you save stories? How do you share stories? But also how do we actually read things -- how is it customized on the fly?
Getting down to the real nuts and bolts of newsgathering and production, apparently the WaPo's infrastructure could also stand a 21st-century reboot from its new owner. Multiple sources at the Post told the Verge that the paper is in need of new content management systems, as publishing stories is still too clunky and time-consuming a process. Former Post executive editor Jim Brady anticipates that "Bezos will come up with technological solutions to help reporters and editors be speedier and more efficient because that's what he has done at Amazon so well."
After all the prognosticating settles, it will be interesting to see what an industry innovator like Bezos actually makes of his strange new bedfellow.
This story, "The Amazoning of news has now begun," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.