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An ethical argument against Washington Post Arc

Nieman Lab calls Arc's quest "cautious". Perhaps. I have a more skeptical view on the matter. In fact I think there's a reasonable ethical argument against Arc.

First off, to debunk the Nieman Lab lede, Arc's research and development has been anything but cautious. C'mon, is that the Bezos way?

As I noted last April in my post, How Jeff Bezos Might Eventually Takeover Local News, there were a few components to this strategy immediately visible to me:

  • Start with revenue. 
  • Have the best tech.
  • Play to print.
  • Live on big contracts until self-serve is ready.

I think that the past year has proved me right on three of four.

  • Arc is the best tech. I mean, who else? Saxo? TownNews? Get real. The system of systems approach is far more future-proof than the monolith, and the Post has good-ass engineers and product people working this problem. The Times probably competes on tech but that system is not commercially available.
  • Play to print. From the early clients to the Lenfest-Knight Table Stakes initiative, legacy media and not digital startups seem to be the ideal customer.
  • Live on big contracts until self serve is ready. Same evidence as above, really. 

The key area where Arc team has not made public waves, revenue. However. Amazon and specifically its programmatic arm, A9, has been doing just that.


I wouldn't want to use Arc for the same reason I don't want to use AWS. I don't want my business funding an enterprise that will long-term wrest economic control away from my local community.

Google might be sucking up the marketing dollars once captured by newspapers (although isn't Craigslist really to blame?), but Google isn't using Google Cloud to subsidize its search business (if anything the search business is self-subsidizing, such as through the payment to Apple for Google being iOS default). On the other hand, Amazon is using its technology business to subsidize its retail business. And what do you think it'll use its programmatic operation to do? Pad the pocketbooks of your local newsroom?

Depending on the day, Jeff Bezos is the world's wealthiest man. American mayors have prostrated themselves at the Amazon altar proffering promises of tax incentives and free land. Meanwhile his journalistic offshoot plots an operations takeover of the local news business. Hold up, a takeover? Yeah dudes. Product is destiny. Arc team will be able crank out features faster than most legacy metro IT groups, but at what cost?

I think given the above, it's reasonable to have a default stance of skepticism when it comes to Bezos' intent. Unlike Buffett and Zuckerberg and Gates, Bezos hasn't yet revealed how much agency he wants his fortune to have. Yes, money wants something; capital seeks a return. Maybe when Bezos signs the Giving Pledge, or heck even starts drawing a reasonable margin from the retail business, I'll change my tune. But for now I'm trepidatious about Arc and the endgame, and I think in the meantime local publishers will do well to keep their stack as generic as possible. And keep an eye out for an Arc Revenue Extension or similar program… that's when the party will really get started.

Want advice on what you should do with your publication? Find me at PhillyPublishing.com!

Update: Thought it was ARC but I guess preferred style is Arc now. Unclear if that's a diluvian reference.

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