Interview: Steve Forbes Says Pay Walls Can’t Pay The Way

“Even if you have a successful paywall, the revenue you get will not come close to matching what you’re going to get on the advertising side,” Forbes Media chairman and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes told paidContent:UK.

“We believe getting that wide audiences gives you many more opportunities to offer pieces or the whole of it to marketers, it gives you much more flexibility. Even in the old print days, for most publications, most of the revenue came from advertising, not paid circulation.”

For a publisher targeting cash-rich, information-hungry audiences, Forbes, which remains free on the web, eschews the charging paradigm practised by some business-news counterparts like WSJ.com. As told by the Forbes Media’s C-suite, who were in London this week to launch a Europe version of the printed magazine, the strategy instead sounds remarkably like the go-large-or-go-paid furrows being ploughed by the likes of Guardian.co.uk and Mail Online…

“Our belief is that it’s an advertising-driven model,” chief revenue officer Kevin Gentzel told me during a group media briefing. “Therefore, scale is important to us. In order to get to 19 million uniques, we felt allowing C-level executives unimpeded access to our content and conversation has been very important to create reach to audiences our marketers would like to advertise to.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to build digital revenues equivalent to our print product is because of that philosophy.” Digital advertising revenue is just over half the company total, Forbes CEO Mike Perlis said.

As well as the web fees frenzy, Forbes Media is also largely sitting out the current round of buzz in which publishers are eager to get their magazines on tablets and their app stores…

“Our initial thoughts are to not do what a lot of our friends in the magazine publishing business were doing, to regurgitate the magazine,” Gentzel said.

“Based on some research that we saw looking at iPhone apps, the vast majority are used one time and never gone back to. We wanted to overcome that obstacle, create apps that were used frequently – we looked at themes that were most important to our audience.”

Forbes launched a free investing guide app, sponsored by Credit Suisse, which pulled only some content from its web efforts, and, later, an app of its 400 Richest Americans list.

“We thought, if we kept hitting on themes, we would create an experience that would create the need for a reader to go to it frequently,” Gentzel added.

Perlis himself favours the web over apps, at least for now.

“I feel that the site itself suits up really well on iPad and you can enjoy it the way it was intended that way as opposed to creating an electronic magazine,” he said. “The redesign of Forbes.com is very elegant – on iPad, it’s a very pleasant experience.”

We may go the replica route at some point; we want to feel our way there. But, in the meantime, this themed approach has been working very well for us.”

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