Four years ago, Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post. Which isn’t news at this point. But how the Post has changed over the past four years is. Bezos made a statement in 2013, which indicated that he wasn’t sure exactly what the future held for this acquisition, but that he was going to experiment in order to chart that path. At the time he acknowledged that the employees might have apprehensions about this transfer of ownership, but he was dedicated to reassuring them that the company would continue to serve readers as it always had.
It’s been four years, and Bezos has been true to his word. The experiment that occurred at the Post has included a side project which is not exactly within the company’s wheelhouse. Since 2014, there has been a new Post operation called Arc Publishing. Which has offered the publishing system the company originally used for washingtonpost.com as a service. This allows other organizations to use the Post’s tools for writers and editors. Arc also shoulders the responsibility for ensuring that readers get a snappy, reliable experience when they visit a site on a desktop or mobile device. Think a fancy version of Squarespace or WordPress -tailored to solve the content problems of a particular industry.
By offloading the creation of publishing tools and the hosting of sites, media companies can concentrate on the journalism itself rather than the technical requirements of getting it in front of readers. This makes sense. It’s like decentralizing the tech work in a way. Scot Gilespie, the Chief Technology Officer with the Washington Post, says that this is beneficial because it “lets us run the CMS (content management system) for you, the creation of circulation. You focus on the differentiation”.
The Los Angeles Times, the Globe and Mail (Canadian) and the New Zealand Herald are among the larger publications that have moved to the Arc. In terms of aggregate numbers, the sites running on Arc reach 300 million readers. Publishers pay based on bandwidth. Which means – the more readers they have, the better it is for Arc overall. Smaller customers pay, on average, about $10,000 per month. Whereas some of the larger customers pay up to $150,000 per month.
Many believe that this service is distracting the post from providing the service that they originally got into – which is journalism. But it’s not. In fact, it’s financially bolstering their ability to do that. Especially in today’s age where print versions of newspapers are a bit of a dying medium. This kind of side hustle, if you will, is what is saving those print editions from meeting their demise.
Let’s be honest. Not everyone is technically inclined. I work with people every single day who don’t understand how to use basic word processors. They may be extremely skilled in other ways, but they just can’t understand Microsoft Word. That being said, if there are tools in place that take away the requirement to know how to do those things, it’s a win-win. This leaves many in a position where they can get back to the basics of writing and chasing stories. I think this is genius and I hope to see more developments like it in the future.