“Local doesn’t scale” – news industry common wisdom that’s has been true for the past few decades, but not so in the historical sense. Frank Gannett, Walter Annenberg, and William Randolph Hearst would all have contended otherwise.
Have you ever wondered whether Jeff Bezos might want the same? He’s conquering retail and cloud computing, has sights on voice, long bets on space, and a thriving publication at the Washington Post.
Alright, so, how might Bezos eventually takeover local news? A play in a a few acts… With the Greek chorus here being something about the rise of the operations-focused technocrat.
Start with revenue. You may have seen the Washington Post’s Zeus product, a rethought ad stack with all ads loading < 2 seconds. Key phrase: “It’s pitching Zeus to other publishers”. Washington Post product director Jarrod Dicker says they have no plans “right now” to bundle 3rd-party publisher inventory in the Washington Post’s private marketplace, but with Amazon’s programmatic arm (A9) already thriving this is an eventual no brainer.
Play to print. Bezos has a weak spot for print, or at least he says he is. That’s what lead to the Post’s early Kindle Fire attempts at print replication, the project where current Post rockstar Joey Marburger may have first landed on Bezos’ radar. Print is a presence throughout the Amazon/WaPo/Local news trifecta, too. Digital subscriptions are getting a bigger presence on Amazon.com; the Post has been experimenting for a couple years now with WaPo digital access as a local news add-on; early attempts at using newspaper delivery service for last mile have given way to Bezos building a nationwide infrastructure to do just that himself. No one seriously expects print to grow going forward, but presenting Bezos as an innovator who appreciates print culture will be a key part of this longterm sales process.
Have the best tech. While we have to guard against the “unicorn CMS” tendency, ARC is up there with Chorus in cobbling together an ever shifting set of tools into a sensible constellation of a content management system. ARC tackles jobs that digital shops have traditionally been less fixated on, like section front production, workflow management, and digital asset management. The solutions for analytics, multi-variate testing, and editorial optimization hold their own against startups and big tech co alternatives. Coral Project has a base at WaPo, and of course this whole smorgasbord is built on Amazon Web Services. There are additional single player benefits here with data and optimization, read this for a hint.
Live on big contracts until self serve is ready. Here’s the big trick. Tribune Company, er, Tronc has already signed onto ARC. There are dozens of other clients who’ve done the same. But the Post hasn’t really begun selling ARC yet. The sales cycle at this point requires reaching out and a high degree of publisher buy-in and collaboration. The Amazon model will push ARC to become more of a self-service product so that the product can be profitable even when sold to smaller clients, like regional chains and legacy family companies. By that time all the kinks around integration will have been worked out and the process might be as simple as a DNS change.
I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen, but Bezos has a good chance of becoming even more of a media baron in the years to come.