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Amazon's Jeff Bezos can reinvent Washington Post as curator of record

Jeff Bezos has the chance to reinvent publishing in the same way he reshaped e-commerce, says former Daily Mail and Daily Express journalist, Grant Feller, now founder of GF Media.

Grant Feller: founder of GF Media

Grant Feller: founder of GF Media

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One of the reasons the Amazon website and business model works so well is that it understands what the customer wants. It even predicts what we want before we even know it. It's an extension of ourselves, perhaps even a reflection whose principle purposes are to befriend and make money.

I hope that it is this simple genius – marketing relevant content to people – that forms the bedrock to Jeff Bezos's inevitably controversial tenure of The Washington Post, one of the world's greatest newspapers, an institution that the creator of Amazon has just bought for a bargain price equivalent to a pair of Gareth Bales

If he can turn that newspaper into a money-making reflection of its readers – not just a tired old forum for dull politicos and even duller sports fans – he'll save not just it, but probably transform the entire newspaper industry for the better. And give the content marketing industry an entirely new platform.

'We want what we want' is the brutally selfish, liberating and successful mantra of the central character in a charming novel I've just read,' Beautiful Ruins' by Jess Walter (which would be a wonderfully apposite subdeck for the newspaper industry but which in this case refers to Richard Burton, among others).

And that mantra is the most accurate assessment of our media consumption. There is so much out there that we only consume what we genuinely want to, what we consider to be meaningful to us. Where once we yearned for the serendipitous, today, suffocated from information overload, we've settled for wanting what we want.

Thus, we will scour the web looking for the latest update on Liverpool Football Club, but none of the other major teams. We might want access to the latest Alzheimer's story because it touches upon familial concerns.

We might want the best weather forecast for the south Cornwall coast each weekend, to know what film critics have to say about a certain blockbuster, to find out the buzz in our local area, we want to find out about Boris Johnson and not David Cameron, terrorism, new restaurants, archaeological discoveries, any utterances from Bob Dylan and Woody Allen, trenchant and unforgiving opinions about UKIP nutters and their bigoted golf club cliques, secret Nazis and UFO sightings. Or is that just me?

The point is, we want what we want, yet at the moment, we are forced to wade through a dense ocean of meaningless, appallingly written, badly sourced, eerily familiar and pretty rubbishy content to find those pearls of wisdom.

What if someone or something could give me all of that, if there was a publication that reflected my needs, values, interests, biases, likes and dislikes?  Every morning, just the way I wanted it. If it could predict perhaps what I might like based on what I liked before. If it could push "new" material that I might not have yet considered and that other people are raving about – not like a mass, anonymous Twitter-like tsunami (the crowd is not always wise), but recommendations of subjects that people I respect consider to be important.

In such a model, journalists would be not just creators but, more importantly, curators, uncovering the best material, using their finely honed skills and judgements. Cutting, pasting and delivering in an entirely new way to an entirely new, bigger and much more demanding audience.

This is how Bezos could reinvent the wheel in the same way that he reinvented cultural commerce. He gave us what we wanted, or at least made it easier for us to want what we wanted. And spend a fortune in doing so.

And what a brilliant advertising-funded model this new commerce-minded media venture could become, in which readers have intricately targeted messages sent to them. Like Amazon, but better.

Take health as an example. I'm genuinely interested in asthma, Alzheimer's, carpal tunnel syndrome, weight loss, Achilles' tendon problems, breast cancer and blood pressure. I want to know everything- every study, story and breakthrough, anything that could potentially improve my life (and others') but which actually is worth reading.

And once I've signed up for those subjects, Bezos would have the sort of intimate connection with me that Amazon never truly afforded him. For while I like John Le Carre, that doesn't mean I like airport spy novels. Even though I bought a travel guide to Lisbon last month, trying to predict my next holiday is needle-in-a-haystack stuff. I'm not going to buy Donovan records just because I like Dylan. When it comes to health, on the other hand (and Liverpool) you've got me for life.

I read a learned broadsheet commentator suggest that this kind of personalisation could never work in a newspaper environment because we would grow to hate living in an "echo chamber" and so would miss out on serendipity. But that is how most people online currently consume – in an echo chamber that plays a very specific and sometimes monotonous tune. But it is a carefully constructed tune of their own making. And it works.

And much to the horror of The Guardian newspaper and its blinkered disciples, I will suggest something else Jeff Bezos could do with his new "personalised" newspaper. Charge people for the privilege of reading it.

If they build it, they will pay. After all, we want what we want.

Grant Feller is an editor and media consultant at www.gf-media.co.uk

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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