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Five ways Jeff Bezos could shake up the Washington Post

Tuesday, 6 Aug 2013 | 3:29 PM ET
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If there is one thing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos knows how to do well, it's make tons of money. If there is one thing that is certain about the newspaper business these days, it's that it generates barely any money.

(Read more: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post)

Which is why media junkies and analysts alike are pulling their hair out over what exactly the tech mogul plans to do with the Washington Post. And while no one knows for sure what Bezos has up his sleeve, he will almost surely experiment to find new ways to create value, Wired senior staff writer Steven Levy told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Tuesday.

"He is a person who knows how to leverage the Internet to create incredible value, and I think he sees opportunities there that traditional publishers just haven't seen," Levy said. "So I think we are going to see things we haven't seen before in the news industry to leverage the valuable, valuable product that they have."

Here's a few ways experts say Bezos may experiment with the Post.

A Netflix for news

The news industry needs a better way to aggregate content, and Bezos may begin to tackle that problem starting with the Washington Post, said Ken Doctor, a news publishing analyst at Outsell.

Much like Netflix or Apple's iTunes, news needs a platform readers can go to consume new as well as old content and receive personalized recommendations, Doctor said.

"Netflix's initial notion was to put all movies in one place and have a list where a user can get recommendations, he said. "If you look at iTunes in a similar fashion, digital music was out there, but all the tough work was on the user's and customer's part. With iTunes, Apple said let's bring it all in one place where people can seamlessly buy and listen all in one solution—I could see Bezos pushing in that direction."

The Amazon CEO could build out a similar platform, on which users could find content from the Washington Post and other regional newspapers and political outlets in one place; recommendations would be generated based on what the user had previously read.

Amazon-like content

The most powerful thing about Amazon is that it knows its users well and leverages that knowledge to sell more products. This may be a key strategy for Bezos to push content and advertising, according to experts.

"What makes Amazon special is that it knows you as you—thus, it gives you greater relevance and greater value," said Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism. "Forget big data; we need small data."

For too long, newspapers have focused on too broad a demographic, he said. What it must do now is act like Amazon and pay attention to that "small data"—the data of individuals—to add value to the reader's experience.

Amazon is exceptional at getting to know its customers and uses its recommendation technology to give people what they want, when they want it, said Scott Peters, the co-president of Jordan, Edmiston, an independent investment bank specializing in media, marketing services and technology.

Whether it's targeted advertising or custom content, Amazon's recommendation engine may provide a handy tool with the Post.

"Amazon has done so much experimenting with marketing and customer interaction, [Bezos] probably will deploy a small army of people creating the best model for the digital side of the enterprise," Peters said.

Billionaires: New faces of 'newsies'
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E-commerce

Another way Bezos may look at rousing profits at the Post is by implementing an e-commerce component on the digital side, experts say.

"This is a personal investment by Jeff, but e-commerce is in his DNA, so I would think he would be able to exploit some of the aspects of a newspaper that haven't been exploited before," Levy said. "Just the idea that so many people see it, and these eyeballs can be converted to sales."

Bezos could allow advertisers on mobile platforms to sell products directly through the ads, Doctor said. Amazon could charge advertisers a premium to place a "hot button" by their ad or next to their product name in a story, enabling the user to purchase directly through the app.

Amazon could use its recommendation technology for this application as well, Doctor added.

"People don't just want advertising, but they want to buy and they want to buy smartly," he said. "This would help delight readers, especially on smartphones and tablets."

Double delivery service

Using the Post's daily delivery for products is something Bezos may experiment with, Levy said.

"Amazon has been very aggressive in its delivery service, and now he has a delivery that is going every day to people's houses," Levy said. "These are some of the places that he might go."

Doctor said he could also envision Bezos taking advantage of delivery's physical component, potentially using it for a one-day Amazon delivery system in the Washington area. However, he added, the logistics would have to make absolute sense for Bezos to act on that.

Free Kindles

Giving away Amazon's Kindle e-readers might be another route to enticing new Post subscribers, Doctor said.

Doctor said the the paper could offer a Kindle Fire to those who sign up for a two-year subscription, but added that he didn't imagine that as one of Bezos' major moves.

By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Jeff Bezos as a "Silicon Valley billionaire." Bezos lives in Seattle.

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  • Matt Hunter is the senior technology editor at CNBC.com.

  • Cadie Thompson is a tech reporter for the Enterprise Team for CNBC.com.

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.

  • Jon Fortt is an on-air editor. He covers the companies, start-ups, and trends that are driving innovation in the industry.

  • Lipton is CNBC's technology correspondent, working from CNBC's Silicon Valley bureau.

  • Mark is CNBC's Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bureau Chief covering technology and digital media.