Millennium Clocks, Space Launches Among Amazon Founder's Pet Projects

PHOTO: Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

How impatient will Jeff Bezos be to turn around the struggling Washington Post? Judging by how he runs his other current projects -- which include building a 10,000-year clock inside a mountain, and privately blasting men into space -- his patience might be almost infinite.

In a Post story announcing the paper's sale, Bezos, founder of Internet retail giant Amazon.com, said he was optimistic about the Post's future.

"I don't want to imply that I have a worked-out plan," he was quoted as saying. "This will require experimentation."

DETAILS OF POST'S SALE

The Post, according to its own announcement of its sale for $250 million, has suffered a 44 percent drop in operating revenue over the past six years. Like other once-prosperous big-city dailies, it has been wounded by the defection of readers and advertisers to Internet competitors. No major U.S. newspaper now claims to have a business model that would guarantee its survival, let alone its success long-term.

But the "long-term" is where Bezos' mind naturally likes to go, says Brad Stone, senior technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek. Stone's forthcoming book "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" will be out this October.

Asked if he thinks Bezos has a timeline for fixing the Post, Stone says, "emphatically not." Bezos, he says, is not someone who confines himself to timelines.

"He has the luxury of not caring," says Stone, thanks in part to a personal fortune estimated by Forbes at $28 billion.

WHAT BEZOS COULD HAVE BOUGHT INSTEAD

Associates say, however, that Bezos' predilection for thinking long-term is not just a product of his wealth. Former Amazon executive David Risher last year told the Wall St. Journal that his ex-boss "thinks in decades and centuries. Unlike most of us, Jeff is hard-wired for the very long term."

Nowhere is Bezo's focus on eternity illustrated better than with his project to build what he calls his "10,000 Year Clock."

The 200-foot-tall timepiece is now being built, says Stone, deep within a mountain in West Texas, near one of Bezos' homes. Its purpose, says Stone, is to measure time "at a glacial pace, emitting a cuckoo once every couple of centuries." The Wall St. Journal says Bezos so far has spent $42 million on the clock.

"The reason I'm doing it," he explained to the paper, "is that it is a symbol of long-term thinking."

Not far away, on the same property, is his rocket-launch site.

Bezos aspires to shoot his fellow man into space. But he's not in any great hurry to do it. The Latin motto of Blue Origin, the private space flight company he founded in 2000, is "Gradatim Freociter." Translation: "Step-by-Step, Ferociously."

The company's objective, says its website, is to "patiently and step-by-step" lower the cost of space flight so that many people can afford to go, "and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system."

Stone says Bezos sees Blue Origin as a multi-decade project that may exceed his own lifetime. Its long-term goal, says Stone, is to create "an enduring human presence in space." By Bloomberg's estimate, Bezos has spent $175 million on the venture.

Bezo's pockets seem plenty deep enough, even for the Post, which had an operating loss of $54 million last year, though that was down from a loss of nearly $200 million in 2008 and $175 million in 2009.

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