Jeff Bezos: Are You Throwing a Party for Your Guests -- or for Yourself?

Amazon CEO Talks with ABC News about The Washington Post and Customer-Centricity

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Amazon founder-CEO Jeff Bezos has some new Kindles to sell -- which, so far, have been well-received. But in a just-released interview with ABC News Technology Editor Joanna Stern, he mostly talks about stuff other than his company's latest e-readers.

It's a rather weird conversation -- Bezos is a goofy guy, and Stern (at least here) is a goofy interviewer -- that almost goes off the rails a couple minutes in when they compliment each other's hair. (Watch for the first eruption of Bezos' signature hearty laugh at 2:17.) And it's a deferential, softball interrogation overall (in her introduction, Stern calls Bezos -- who she visited at Amazon headquarters in Seattle -- "one of the richest and most interesting men alive").

But things get interesting when Stern asks Bezos about his acquisition of The Washington Post and he ends up talking about what it really means to be customer-centric. Watch the clip and then scroll down for more context.

When Stern asks "Is there anything that surprised you about this investment you've made, about this new team you've got in Washington?" Bezos answers:

No, I wasn't surprised. I knew the quality of the people would be very, very high. And, you know, I spent two days there and I was extremely impressed by everybody I met. The business challenges in the newspaper industry have nothing to do with the quality of the people. These are big industry-wide trends -- and what we need to do is always lean into the future. You know, I tell people that when the world changes around you and it changes against you -- so that what used to be a tailwind is all of a sudden a headwind -- you have to lean into that and figure out what to do, because complaining is not a strategy.

Bezos then talks about bringing Amazon-like approaches to the iconic newspaper -- including an eagerness to invent/reinvent, long-term thinking and Amazon's famous "put the customer first" ethos. In elaborating on that customer-first point, he goes into metaphorical mode: "If you have a party, are you holding the party for your guests, or [are] you holding the party for yourself? And sometimes people hold parties and they pretend it's for their guests, but really they're holding the party for themself."

You can bet that some Washington Posties will be reading into that statement -- which could arguably be taken as code about out-of-touch newspapering, journalistic self-indulgence/self-importance and the old self-congratulatory, non-customer-centric power structures that used to gird old-school publishing. (It's worth noting that the Graham family, from which Bezos bought the paper, was at the core of D.C. society. Katharine Graham, the paper's legendary publisher who died in 2001, was known for the elite parties she threw at her home, which attracted the country's -- and the world's -- most powerful people and solidified the Graham family's power base.)

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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