Over the last three years, The Washington Post (or “the Post”) has successfully transformed itself from a regional, D.C. area print newspaper into a national digital media company. So how did the Post make this dramatic transition and move up in the pack of national news providers? With help from a somewhat surprising partner, Amazon.com founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos. In October 2013, after a constant downward decline in average daily circulation and ad sales, the Post was acquired for $250 million with Jeff Bezos’ personal funds . Bezos bought the paper with the intention to reinvent the once 7th largest daily newspaper in the U.S. by ushering the Post into the digital age.
The story of the Post is not just a story of a single newspaper, but rather a reflection of the print industry as a whole. Newspapers have struggled to adapt to the new digital realities of today’s information age. The internet has dramatically changed the way consumers receive information; readers now expect real-time news and updates across all of their digital platforms at all times. The print industry has been unable to keep up with these rapidly increasing consumer demands resulting in a constant decline in print readership and ad sales over the last two decades. From 1985 to 2014, paid daily circulation of newspapers in the U.S. fell from 62.8 million to 40.4 million (Exhibit 1) . Print advertising revenue of U.S. newspapers plunged from $47.4 billion in 2005 to $16.4 billion in 2014 . Specifically, the Post’s average daily circulation dropped 38% from 2004 to 2013 . It was evidently clear that the prior print only newspaper business model was no longer relevant with the news consumption habits of the 21st century.
The 2013 take-private of the Post initiated a complete overhaul of the paper with a significant focus on growth through the investment in technology. In their efforts to take the Post digital, the following key changes were initiated :
- Revamp of the design and layout of all digital platforms (Exhibits 2 and 3)
- Faster loading website and mobile apps
- Content available on a variety of distribution platforms including Twitter, Google AMP, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook
- Actively communicating with users through email, social media sites, and mobile apps
- Considerable amount of multimedia content, heavy emphasis on video
- Post app pre-loaded onto Amazon Fire and Kindle tablets
These initiatives seem to be working. In October 2015, for the first time ever, the Post exceeded The New York Times in digital visitors claiming 66.9 million unique users compared to 65.8 million for The Times (Exhibit 4) . In February 2016, the Post reported 890.1 million page views, beating out the Times (721.3 million) and even BuzzFeed (884.0 million) .
There are a few key reasons why these technology initiatives were successful for the Post:
- “Get Big Fast” Strategy: The Post took a page straight out of Amazon’s playbook and focused on growing their digital audience quickly. To reach this broad market, the Post needed to drastically widen their customer acquisition funnel by driving traffic to their platforms through variety of touchpoints (e.g. Facebook ads, email, Twitter or blog post). Once customers were brought onto the site, The Post needed to ensure they had compelling and relevant content to keep them coming back, and eventually, convert them into loyal visitors willing to pay for a subscription to a digital bundle .
- Investment in New Technologies: The Post invested heavily in building out their data analytics capabilities. Most notable was their in-house engineered content-management system called “Arc Publishing” which handled all web publishing, blogging, video and mobile . Not only did the Post use Arc Publishing internally, but they found a way to monetize the technology by licensing it to other news organizations, technology teams, and digital businesses .
- Freedom to Innovate Under Private Ownership: The private backing by Bezos gave the Post the freedom to experiment without the pressure from shareholders to produce profits in the short-term. Many of these technology initiatives are risky, hard to measure success, and difficult to monetize, especially at the onset.
The Post took control of its technological destiny by creating a media ecosystem built around new digital platforms and innovative technologies. For this strategy to be sustainable in the long run though, the Post will need to focus on (i) maintaining their strong journalistic arm with high quality content, top-tier talent, and a distinctive voice, (ii) growing their digital audience, specifically millennials who make up 40% of their current online readers , and (iii) investing in innovation and entering new digital mediums, such as virtual reality, to stay at the forefront of digital storytelling.
 Paul Fahri, “Washington Post closes sale to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos,”The Washington Post, October 1, 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/washington-post-closes-sale-to-amazon-founder-jeff-bezos/2013/10/01/fca3b16a-2acf-11e3-97a3-ff2758228523_story.html, accessed November 15, 2016.
 “Paid circulation of daily newspapers in the United States from 1985 to 2014 (in thousands),” Statistic, https://www.statista.com/statistics/183422/paid-circulation-of-us-daily-newspapers-since-1975/, accessed November 15, 2016.
 “Digital and print advertising revenue of U.S. newspapers from 2003 to 2014 (in billion U.S. dollars),” Statistica, March 2015, https://www.statista.com/statistics/189844/online-and-print-advertising-revenue-of-us-newspapers-since-2003/, accessed November 15, 2016.
 Felix Richter, “The Gradual Decline of The Washington Post,” Statistica, August 6, 2013, https://www.statista.com/chart/1333/circulation-at-the-washington-post/, accessed November 15, 2016.
 Dan Kennedy, “The Bezos Effect: How Amazon’s Founder Is Reinventing The Washington Post – and What Lessons It Might Hold for the Beleaguered Newspaper Business,” The Shorenstein Center, June 8, 2016, http://shorensteincenter.org/bezos-effect-washington-post/, accessed November 15, 2016.
 Jordan Valinsky, “Washington Post tops New York Times online for first time ever,”Digiday, November 13, 2015, http://digiday.com/publishers/comscore-washington-post-tops-new-york-times-online-first-time-ever/, accessed November 15, 2016.
 “The Washington Post surpasses 890 million page views, 73 million users in February,”WashPost PR Blog, The Washington Post, March 17, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/pr/wp/2016/03/17/the-washington-post-surpasses-890-million-page-views-73-million-users-in-february/, accessed November 15, 2016.
 Arc Publishing, https://www.arcpublishing.com/, accessed November 17, 2016.
 Jack Murtha, “How the times have changed for The Washington Post,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 1, 2015, http://www.cjr.org/analysis/washington_post_vs_new_york_times.php, accessed November 15, 2016.