The Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner dropped some knowledge at the Future of Newspapers conference in Turin, Italy, on Wednesday, reports CNBC. Here is some of Bezos's key advice to newspapers:
• "We run Amazon and the Washington Post in a very similar way in terms of the basic approach. We attempt to be customer-centric, which in the case of the Post means reader-centric. I think you can get confused, you can be advertiser-centric—and what advertisers want, of course, is readers—and so you should be simpleminded about that and you should be focused on readers. If you can focus on readers, advertisers will come."
• "This industry spent 20 years teaching everyone in the world that news should be free. The truth is, readers are smarter than that. They know high-quality journalism is expensive to produce, and they are willing to pay for it, but you have to ask them. We've tightened our paywall, and every time we've tightened our paywall, subscriptions go up."
• "When you're writing, be riveting, be right, and ask people to pay. They will pay."
• Bezos believes publications should use data to test headlines and understand how people engage with certain stories: "I would never let anybody or ask anybody to be slavish to data, but I'd also be super-skeptical of people who aren't curious about the data."
• "This is not a philanthropic endeavor. For me, I really believe, a healthy newspaper that has an independent newsroom should be self-sustaining. And I think it's achievable. And we've achieved it. [The reason is because] constraints drive creativity. The worst thing I could've done for the Post, I believe, is to have said don't worry about revenue, whatever you need, just do the job. Because I don't think that would lead to as much quality when there are in fact constraints."
• "One of the first rules of business is complaining is not a strategy. You have to work with the world as you find it, not as you would have it be."
• When Bezos took over the Post, the newsroom was laying off people. Now they've added 140 reporters. "What they needed was a little bit of runway and the encouragement to experiment, and to stop shrinking. You can't shrink your way into relevance. . . . We've grown our way into profitability instead of shrinking our way into profitability." MG