Bezos to Set The Washington Post on Fire

Jeff Bezos is planning to bring together two separate but equally important projects under his control: the Amazon Kindle Fire and The Washington Post. The Amazon CEO bought the paper slightly more than a year ago as a personal investment.

Now the twain shall meet in Project Rainbow, a pilot project that has been under way at the Post for the past few months, according to reports.

The project is a new application that will offer a curated selection of news and photographs from The Washington Post in a tablet-friendly format. Of course, many publications offer such an app with the goal of reaching a deeper subscriber base.

Providers such as Flipboard have made their mark with apps that aggregate news content from multiple sources and display it in a magazine-like layout for the tablet.

What makes the Post app different is that it reportedly will come preinstalled on Kindle Fire tablets that are expected to launch later this year sporting an 8.9-inch screen.

The initial version will be free, but it will be available later as a subscription.

A Marriage of Sorts?

If these expectations are fulfilled, it will be the first hint that Bezos’ acquisition of The Washington Post was more than just a private endeavor.

Bezos already has ushered in a number of positive, albeit occasionally controversial, changes at the paper. He has hired more reporters — but he also trimmed reporters’ benefits and pensions. He has encouraged the paper to continue its tradition of deep-dive reporting — but he also dismissed the longstanding publisher Katharine Weymouth.

Bezos plans to make The Washington Post a national paper with coverage that’s not limited to the local community or political developments at the White House and Capitol Hill, he has said.

‘A Brilliant Plan’

Viewed through that prism, Project Rainbow is clearly an excellent step to take.

“I think Amazon’s plan to make The Washington Post a national newspaper via the Kindle is an excellent idea, and filling a crucial and much-needed goal,” Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Other than USA Today, America has no national newspaper,” he said.

Using the Kindle as a platform could well accomplish that goal — or at least put The Washington Post within spitting distance of The New York Times, the so-called “newspaper of record,” Levinson added.

“With more and more people reading their books on Kindles, a daily newspaper is a logical next step, and another example of how the digital age is making us more literate and informed,” he said.

It is hard to see the downside, said Kevin Convey, chair and assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University and former editor-in-chief at the Daily News.

Possibly, buyers could react to the free Post app the way some users of iTunes reacted to the free U2 album placed in their account two weeks ago — that is, with hostility. Then again, “PC makers have been preloading computers with a lot less useful junk for a long time, so it’s hard to fathom too much of a negative reaction,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The upside for The Washington Post and Bezos, however, is far more compelling — and likely to be realized: “a free Post news app with every device sold — and this on a device that’s been estimated to account for one-quarter of tablet sales,” Convey said.

“Some 195 million tablets were sold in 2013, so the math is compelling in terms of introducing new readers to the Post brand,” he noted, “giving the product some of the national reach it craves and immediately upping the Post’s digital readership numbers, which should see a massive bump.”

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