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Strategic paths for WaPo
Plus, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg will moderate a show on PBS
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After an impressive decade-long run, Jeff Bezos' Washington Post is in transition.
The paper is on track to lose $100 million this year, and digital subscribers have dipped to 2.5 million, down from 3 million. Many top executives have recently departed, and new leaders have entered the picture. Bezos himself is leaning in.
As WaPo looks to return to growth, the company has centered its strategy around expanding its offerings and coverage areas. “There’s no question that we need to diversify what people come to us for,” top editor Sally Buzbee told the NYT. “That’s our whole strategy.” Former CEO Fred Ryan, who recently stepped down, said he wanted the Post to be an essential source of news and information for the English-speaking world.
In line with this approach, WaPo is building out a bundle of different offerings. The company has expanded coverage of service-oriented topics such as health & wellness, and it’s added a suite of games. Incoming CRO Alex MacCallum has hinted she’s interested in exploring e-commerce.
At a high level, WaPo is following a similar path as the New York Times – which also aims to be an essential resource for English-speaking readers by offering a bundle of hard news & lifestyle products. It follows that the two companies largely share a target audience, also because they both attract left-leaning readers.
If WaPo maintains this product trajectory, a key question then becomes how much room there is to grow alongside the Times. The NYT grew digital subscribers by 10% between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023, showing that there are certainly still more potential subscribers out there, and in theory WaPo could take a slice of this growth opportunity. But the Times has a significant head start building a holistic consumer bundle.
WaPo could also try to increase the size of its target market by appealing to audiences who don’t currently seek out news. Bezos has reportedly weighed in on an experimental WaPo project that aims to attract people who have tuned out of news. That said, selling something to people who don’t want it is always an uphill battle.
Another path would be investing heavily in core coverage areas, rather than expanding in new ones. Political coverage, for example, is already a core competency, and there’s lots of room for WaPo to become more dominant. WaPo’s location and legacy – as well as its “Democracy Dies in Darkness” slogan – position it to cover politics with authority across the world. Big moves might include paying high salaries to attract top reporters, acquiring startups in the space, or forming international partnerships. That said, many consumers’ interest in political news has declined after the Trump presidency, a trend that has likely contributed to WaPo’s challenges.
Surely there’s no easy answer. But as Bezos enters his second decade of ownership at the Post, there’s an opportunity for the leadership to set a course that’s uniquely WaPo. As Bezos has said before, “differentiation is survival.”
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
Atlantic EIC Jeffrey Goldberg will moderate PBS’s Washington Week. The Atlantic will co-produce the show, pay some of the costs, and assist with ad sales. Another tidbit from the piece: The Atlantic now has 900,000 subscribers, up from 700,000 in 2020.
More on publishers:
Media company valuations have fallen much more steeply than the broader market.
Reuters News saw 1% organic revenue growth YoY in Q2.
Factz acquired celebrity news site Hollywood Life.
Doomberg, a top Substack newsletter that grew largely via Twitter, is moving away from the platform after its engagement plummeted.
Podcast company Realm acquired two companies – one that produces kid-focused content, and another with unscripted shows.
More on platforms:
Meta released open-source AI software for creating music from text prompts.
Google is adding more multimedia to its Search Generative Experience.
Hopin, the challenged digital events platform, sold to RingCentral.
Sara Fischer published an analysis of the current ad market.
Marty Baron opined about local news.
Pointer reviewed how some local publishers are using AI.
The NYT examined the future of ESPN.
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