FORTUNE — Did you hear that Jeff Bezos has agreed to purchase The Washington Post for $250 million? Of course you did, because you’re a news consumer and your purveyors (i.e., me and my peers) are collectively obsessed by what happens in our own boardrooms.
And what you probably read were glowing accounts of how the Amazon
founder was riding in on a white horse to save an institution struggling to succeed in the digital age. The Beneficent Beez.
And I agree that, for The Washington Post, this is a welcome development. What this means for Amazon.com shareholders, however, may be another matter.
Jeff Bezos is one of those few CEOs who almost eclipses his own company. Shareholders believe in Amazon because they believe in Bezos, and his prioritization of long-term gains over short-term profitability.
But it would seem that any time Bezos now gives to WaPo will be time he’s not giving to Amazon. Remember, he is buying the paper as a personal investment, not via Amazon (which would have been a more interesting move). There will be no corporate synergies because there is no common corporation.
The real question is how much time Bezos really will devote to his newest portfolio company. There are some who believe it will be minimal, in part given that the $250 million purchase price represents less than 1% of Bezos’ net worth (in which case the whole talk of Bezos converting WaPo into a digital profit center is largely moot). But I don’t buy it.
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Part of my skepticism is based on a hunch that Bezos must be intrigued by the idea of an Internet entrepreneur saving a business that is on death’s door because of the Internet. More of it, however, is based on how the media is going to watch every move Bezos makes with WaPo, and be withering in its criticism if he takes a hands-off approach while the paper burns.
Remember, (the collective) we care about this particular company’s future more than we do the future of most other companies (including Amazon). It will make what he’s experienced so far — the good and the bad — feel like the minor leagues. Even for someone with a famously strong sense of direction, such scrutiny could be disorienting if he isn’t intimately involved with the decision-making.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that Amazon shareholders should sell because Bezos is buying a newspaper. But they also shouldn’t be celebrating because, going forward, he’ll be paying a bit less attention to his primary job.
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