It was hard to tell whether it was a sigh of relief or the sound of someone getting the wind knocked out of them last month when Jeff Bezos acquired The Washington Post. It was probably a little bit of both.
While it’s too early to know what Bezos will do with the venerable paper, it would be foolish to believe that nothing will change. Here are a few guesses about what the future might look like for the Post, and perhaps for media in general:
Walls will crumble. And not just the walls that separate the techies at the Post from the journalists – this is a great opportunity to bring news, technology, and business together to create a single force focused on understanding what the Post’s readers want, inventing great ways of delivering that, and all taking active responsibility for eyeballs, advertising, and revenue.
Reading habits will be deeply understood. Of the many things that Amazon does really, really well, one that will translate perfectly to the news industry, is the ability to understand a user’s habits, preferences and history and use that information to predict what they might be interested in next. This should result in really relevant content being served up at exactly the right time to keep readers engaged and on the page.
Personalized, atomic content. By treating every individual story as a product, Bezos has the opportunity to create new bundles of content that speak directly to the interests and passions of individual readers. As reading profiles are amassed, and content is properly tagged, content bundles can be created on the fly – along with tailored offers that drive conversions.
Commerce and content will converge. It seems unlikely that Bezos will use all that great reader profile information to simply target relevant content for his new audience. Readers who frequent stories about Apple in the Post should expect to be offered a chance to buy their next device directly from the same source. Travel readers who love stories about Caribbean islands should expect to see travel books, bikinis, and suntan lotion running down the right side of the page.
It’s impossible to predict whether we’ll see any of these changes in the near-term – if at all. But what is clear is that with new leadership from a very different background, who has visionary power and a track record of disruption, there’s a very good chance that The Washington Post we know today won’t look the same a year or two down the road.
And that should bring relief to anyone watching the media industry closely and wondering what – if anything – might be left in a couple of years.