Kindle Fire tablet owners now have exclusive access to a new application from the Washington Post, and they’ll be able to use it for six months without having to pay for a subscription, just by virtue of using a product made by the company that allowed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to buy the Post in 2013. The arrangement could increase the Post’s distribution, make Kindle Fire tablet owners better informed, and show that both companies can innovate despite all their perceived shortcomings.
It’s also the dumbest thing Bezos has done since he spent $ 250 million on a flailing publisher.
Amazon provides the worst platform for the Washington Post to increase circulation, prove its digital chops, or convince readers that it’s no longer a regional newspaper. It would be better to offer the free access to iOS users, Web readers, or Android owners in general. That’s not hidden fanboyism talking — it’s a statement based on everything we know about the different software platforms.
Kindle Fire tablets lost market share after last year’s holiday season. Business Insider reported at the time that Amazon sold 5.8 million units during the holiday quarter, compared to the 41 million other Android tablets sold during the same time. Given the decline of the tablet market — and the fact that the holiday season is often the busiest for consumer tech companies — I doubt that things have improved much since that report was published at the beginning of February 2014.
The iPad’s market share has also fallen, but it’s still thought to be larger than the Kindle Fire’s. And it’s been shown numerous times that iOS users spend more than other consumers on apps, e-commerce sites, and other areas. Choosing to go with Amazon’s platform instead of Apple’s means that the Washington Post is offering six months worth of free access to fewer people who are unlikely to spend as much as other consumers. How does that really benefit the newspaper?
It doesn’t. Unless the Amazon Appstore is making a special exception for the Post it won’t make more from the few subscriptions it does sell than it would have through the App Store; the two software marketplaces take the same 30 percent cut of all sales driven by their platforms. So the Post has chosen a smaller platform that doesn’t spend as much as its larger competition while still taking the same amount of revenues from each subscription. It makes little business sense.
All of which makes it seem like Bezos has instructed the Post to make its new app available to Kindle Fire tablets owners for no reason other than the fact that he also leads the company responsible for making those devices. It’s corporate nepotism, and it seriously undermines the idea that Bezos’ ownership of the Post and his position at Amazon won’t end up in conflict.
So where does that leave us? Well, from where I’m sitting, it looks like a storied newspaper responsible for some of the best watchdog journalism in American history acting as a glorified public relations tool for its owner’s corporate interest. That might not be what Bezos intended, and he might offer some promotions to consumers on other, more lucrative platforms in the future, but right now it looks like the fears over him owning the Post were well-founded.