Easiest way to guarantee success in digital publishing is throwing away the P&L (if at all possible)
The Washington Post can afford now to experiment with new digital publishing products as the pressure of quarterly reporting of earnings has disappeared
Is the launch of the app the first sign of new, innovative approaches to digital publishing that might come from the ownership of Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos? I don’t know, but the Post has been doing some interesting things of late so let’s just say they are moving forward. But the launch may also reinforce a notion long held by many in the media world: that the best, and possibly only, way to succeed for newspapers going forward is by throwing away the P&L statement. I doubt its true, but tossing the P&L will sure feel good for many publishers.
Jeff Bezos is a master at this strategy. While the earnings statements from Amazon.com have been looking more and more iffy, the company has been careful not to reveal much detail in its reporting of its product lines like the Kindle or Fire Phone. Sales are always brisk in the earnings press release, even if there are write downs.
The last time The Washington Post Co. reported earnings before selling the paper off to Bezos, the report showed that the paper had an operating loss of $14.8 million for the quarter, and revenue fell slightly. That will be the last time you will read about how well the Post is doing, unless its owner decides to sell off the property.
But the lack of public accountability for performance, of course, will be tremendously liberating. Every since the tablet publishing era began, the best and more interesting tablet publications have come mostly from brands with unlimited budgets. Red Bulletin is published by the Austrian beverage company Red Bull, first in print but very soon thereafter in digital form. Volkswagen, BMW and other carmakers let their agencies create crazy good, all the bells-and-whistles included apps that showed some media app developers what was possible.
Few newspapers are willing to spend big to develop their own new apps, as La Presse did. Instead, we newspaper readers have gotten a steady stream of replica editions and tablet apps that reformat the paper’s website (even though website redesigns have made this totally unnecessary).
The question many had was whether the Post’s new owner would force all new apps to be launched as Amazon exclusives. Well, for now the Post’s new app is a Amazon Fire exclusive – but Shailesh Prakash, vice president for digital product development, said that the company will eventually launch the app for Google Android tablets and then Apple’s iPad in Q1 of 2015.