Over the past two decades, Jeff Bezos has assembled what appears to be an inexplicable collection of unrelated businesses. There’s Amazon.com’s traditional retail website and its 50 massive fulfillment centers around the U.S., designed to get books, clothes, garden gnomes—whatever—to customers within days or even hours; the Kindle; movie streaming; music streaming; and Amazon Web Services, a rapidly growing enterprise business that runs the computer operations of other companies. The only similarity between these tributaries of the mighty Amazon—or for that matter his space company, Blue Origin—is that they tackle incredibly difficult logistical and computational problems. Bezos, it turns out, loves a grand challenge.
Now he’s got another one. Bezos stunned the world on Aug. 5 by buying the storied but troubled Washington Post. Woodward and Bernstein’s old stomping ground has suffered a 44 percent drop in revenue over the past six years. In his public apology tour last week, Donald Graham, the family scion who sold the newspaper and related assets to Bezos, said he could not in good conscience continue to lose his shareholders’ money. Nor could he stomach further diminishing the reputational value of the Post. Something had to give, or in this case, someone: Bezos ponied up $250 million for the rights to Graham’s paradox. That price is 17 times adjusted profit, or about four times what major metro dailies usually fetch.