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‘Deep pockets not the answer’ – Jeff Bezos

“Independence, not deep pockets, is the solution for the newspaper business,” and “You cannot shrink your way into relevance.” Those two quotes from Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, summarise the main message delivered by the impressive lineup of speakers at La Stampa’s event on the future of newspapers last week

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | June 26, 2017

Each panelist was asked to contribute their priority for the industry in 140 characters or less to a “Torino’s to do list,” which was then signed by all of them and is available for download below. The occasion was the 150th anniversary of La Stampa.

Across four panels, more than 20 industry champions said in Torino that the only way towards a free press is financial sustainability ensured by quality content that people are willing to buy.

According to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, speaking with the authority derived from his 150 million unique visitors per month, the solution is in digital subscriptions, without counting on print revenues on the long run.

For Louis Dreyfus, CEO of Le Monde, which still derives 80% of its revenues from print, it is indispensable to invest in innovation and content – he proudly declared to have hired fifteen new journalists in 2016.

John Elkann, publisher of La Stampa, explained that the 150-year-old newspaper “was always a free paper because it was profitable.”

Jeff Bezos said he senses every day the responsibility of owning The Washington Post, and that the worst thing he could have done for the paper would have been to tell the staff “not to worry about revenues.”

He and l’Espresso Digital Division Director Massimo Russo agreed that quality investigative reporting drives subscription revenues, and the secret is scalability of users and reputation.

Facebook, Google and the so-called OTTs (providers of “over the top” video content via the internet) made appearances in the conversations across all four of the panels, and the general agreement seems to be that the industry must find a way to collaborate with them, with the caveat from Mark Thompson that their offer of cooperation might have an expiration date of six months or less.

“Complaining is not a strategy,” added Bezos.

In his final remarks, attached in full below, Carlo De Benedetti, Chairman of Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso, echoed his colleagues from around the world saying that it is “evident that we cannot think we can stay in the market [by producing] ‘good enough’ information. We must concentrate on the information ‘that makes the difference’, the information that only an exceptionally professional structure can supply with due continuity and professional weight. Information with an exceptionally high content of quality and work”.

He concluded his speech with a urgent appeal to organise in Italy the “Estates General of News Publishing,” among all stakeholders from the news publishing industry and the OTTs. Emphasising that the industry is “not seeking subsidies,” he affirmed that “we want to find the way to remain profitable, because if news publishing dies, as it is in the process of doing, it is not just an industrial sector that dies, it’s an essential function of democratic systems that does so.”

The full programme of the event is attached here below, and videos of the speeches can be watched here.


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