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商业 - 传媒与文化

亚马逊掌门人能否复兴《华盛顿邮报》

Dan Mitchell 2013年08月06日

《华盛顿邮报》因报道水门事件名动天下,一直是普利策奖的获奖专业户。但是,这份成就斐然的老牌报纸同样无力抵御网络对传统新闻业的侵蚀。现在,亚马逊掌门人贝佐斯以个人身份收购了这份报纸。他已经证明自己是一位眼光长远的战略家,而这正是报业目前所需要的东西。

    凡是关心新闻业公共服务功能的人,在听到亚马逊(Amazon)创始人杰夫•贝佐斯将收购《华尔街邮报》(Washington Post)的惊人消息之后,第一反应肯定是谨慎的乐观。

    如今,整个报纸行业正面临大规模的痛苦转型。在这样混乱的大背景下,执掌《华尔街邮报》80多年的格雷厄姆家族显然已经无力继续经营它最成功的资产。非家族性报业公司尤其如此,他们更多受惠于投资者和债权持有人。对于这些公司而言,为了取悦股东,偿付债务,即使公司的收入已经跌至谷底,短期财务目标的重要性仍然远远高于投资未来。但报纸行业既想实现盈利,又想与时俱进,就需要对未来进行投资。

    贝佐斯此次收购《华盛顿邮报》与亚马逊无关。贝佐斯已经证明自己是一位眼光长远的战略家。他将放弃眼前的利润(这将令华尔街的许多人大失所望),以持续改善服务、获得市场份额,同时保持消费者的忠诚度。【这宗交易将不包括Slate.com、《外交政策》(Foreign Policy)和TheRoot.com,但将包括多家地方性报纸。】

    当然,我们无从知晓贝佐斯会如何处理这家公司,但他肯定会进行投资,而不是像《论坛报》(Tribune)和先进出版公司(Advance)等其他报业公司那样,简单通过削减成本(和质量)获取短期利润。其他许多报业公司通常会打着进入报纸行业新时代的幌子,谋取短期利益。

    贝佐斯认为,没有人知道未来五到十年报纸行业的新时代会是什么样子。报纸行业的未来将取决于像他一样的人。他在一份声明中称:

    “互联网几乎改变了报纸行业的方方面面:它缩短了新闻周期,侵蚀了长期可靠的收入来源,同时产生了新的竞争,而且其中许多竞争对手根本无需承担、或只需要承担很少的新闻采集成本。报纸行业的发展没有路线图,要画出一条路来并不容易。我们需要创新,这意味着我们必须不断尝试。”

    而尝试就意味着投入,同时接受更低的利润率。报业公司大都习惯了20世纪后期和21世纪初的高利润率。贝佐斯对此当然心知肚明——那他为什么还要来趟这潭浑水呢?

    去年,贝佐斯层对《财富》杂志(Fortune)表示:“亚马逊坚持三个大的理念:长远思考、客户至上和愿意创新。”将“客户至上”换成“读者至上”,便是报纸行业面对高度不确定的未来时所需要坚守的理念。

    For anyone who cares about the public-service function of journalism, guarded optimism should be the first reaction to the astonishing news that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will buy the Washington Post.

    It's clear that the Graham family, which has run the Post (WPO) for 80 years, was increasingly unable to shepherd its flagship property through the chaos of the massive, wrenching transformation the newspaper industry is undergoing. This is even more true of many newspaper chains that aren't family-controlled and are more beholden to investors and debt-holders. For them, meeting short-term financial goals in order to please stockholders or pay off debts -- even as revenue is falling through the floor -- is a much bigger priority than investing in the future, which is what the industry needs to do if it is to remain not only profitable, but socially relevant.

    Bezos, who will own the Post independently from Amazon (AMZN), has proven himself to be a long-term thinker, forgoing profits today (to the dismay of many on Wall Street) in order to continually improve service, gain market share and secure the loyalty of customers. (Slate.com,Foreign Policy, and TheRoot.com aren't part of the deal, though some regional papers are.)

    Of course, it's impossible to know what Bezos might be able to do with the company, but it seems a safe bet that he's going to invest rather than simply wring it for profits in the short term by cutting costs (and quality), as other newspaper companies like Tribune and Advance have done, often under the pretense of forging ahead into the new era of newspapering.

    Bezos seems to recognize that nobody has any idea what the new era of newspapering might look like five or 10 years hence. It's up to people like him to find out. He said in a statement:

    "The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment."

    And to experiment will mean to spend money and accept much lower profit margins than the ones most newspaper publishers had gotten used to in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st. Bezos surely knows this -- why else would he bother?

    Last year, Bezos told Fortune: "The three big ideas at Amazon are long-term thinking, customer obsession, and willingness to invent." Replace "customer" with "reader" and those are just the ideas the newspaper industry needs to adhere to as the highly uncertain future unfolds.

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