Over the past few years, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has gone full-throttle into realms where “story” is king, both by buying The Washington Post in 2013 and pushing Amazon into producing its own shows and movies.
And for Bezos, it’s not just about the prestige of owning a paper, or wearing a tuxedo to the Oscars.
Don’t get me wrong, Bezos does seem to loves those elements — he did have a cameo in a Star Trek movie, after all. But he also firmly believes in the power of storytelling to enact massive change, according to Amazon’s star showrunner and “Transparent” creator, Jill Soloway.
At Vox Media’s Code Conference this week, Soloway shared a revealing anecdote about Bezos. Soloway said she once asked Bezos for his take on balancing her desire to help push social change, with her career as a Hollywood showrunner.
“They are the same thing,” Bezos replied, according to Soloway. “The way that you make change with story … is so much faster than the way politics can make change,” he continued. If you create pop culture products that have compelling stories in them — for example stories that humanize transgender people like in “Transparent” — “laws follow,” according to Bezos.
But, the money
Changing society is one thing, but Amazon certainly sees the estimated $US4.5 billion it will spend on video in 2017 as a smart business move as well. It even helps the company sell shoes, according to Bezos.
“We get to monetise [our subscription video] in a very unusual way,” Bezos said last June. “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes. And it does that in a very direct way. Because if you look at Prime members, they buy more on Amazon than non-Prime members, and one of the reasons they do that is once they pay their annual fee, they’re looking around to see, ‘How can I get more value out of the program?’ And so they look across more categories — they shop more. A lot of their behaviours change in ways that are very attractive to us as a business.”
Still, from Soloway’s comments about Bezos’ stance on storytelling, it seems no accident that Amazon got its breakout hit with “Transparent,” a show very much at the center of a political and cultural conversation around the lives of transgender Americans.
And that thread doesn’t just apply to fictional storylines. Being at the center of the political conversation has also proved to be a boon for the Washington Post in the last year, both in terms of its relevancy and its bottom line. In December, a memo from Post publisher Fred Ryan said the paper was “profitable and growing,” and it had a string of high-profile scoops in the run-up to the presidential election, which it has continued after as well.
With both Amazon’s original TV shows and movies, and the purchase of the Washington Post, Bezos has shown he values the power of story, both monetarily and in more abstract ways.
That sentiment was “exciting to hear from him,” Soloway said.
And it’s especially important as Amazon and Bezos continue to climb in power and wealth. On Tuesday, Amazon hit $US1,000 per share for the first time.