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

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“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 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 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 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.”

3 Responses to “Interview: Steve Forbes Says Pay Walls Can’t Pay The Way”

  1. M. Derezynski

    These days, when the barrier to entry in becoming a source of publication is laughable, it doesn’t matter if there is a paywall around something. I do not wish to use the phrase “information wants to be free”, because I think it originates too much in the “cyber-era” (around 1980-1995, mostly), but would like to replace it by saying that receiving information comes natural to humans.

    Back in the ages, there used to be enough room on Earth for anyone who just wanted to settle somewhere, build a house, and eventually start a tribe. These days, you need money for all that.

    But, also, back in the days, basic information was free, and there were no definitive authorities  eorld news, since mostly everyone, or at least someone who was willing to share it for no price, knew how to prognose tomorrow’s weather, and most adults were skilled in reading the sky and know what time of year it was, etc. You get my drift. If not: back then there was less relevant information to know, but as much as there was to know, most people who wanted to know, knew about it.

    The printing press revolutionized (I would, maybe, but another time, even argue that it created) the market for information, and the internet (or parts of it) are a parallel to it as much as just possible: Sure, setting a book with type took longer than copying a digital file, but, first of all, you only needed to set the book once, and then make as many copies as you wanted, so the average cost in time still extremely small, and thus the ratio of reproducing a book by re-handwriting it to printing with the press was something at least comparable to copying a book these days with a copier, and just copying a digital file.

    For centuries, this was good because it was a balanced equation. Capitalism wasn’t as much expressed back then compared to our days, but still, making books became monetized, and books became more widely available.

    Now in a rather nonsensical and also strangely funny way, some people think they can keep this scheme up. That they can monetize upon the internet and upon content just as they did when the printing press was invented.

    But, now that we have the similariy nailed down, the difference is: Literally anyone (or mostly anyone) can copy a book, using your computer and whatever programs you use to perform the copying, and also, probably even more important, anyone can *send* a book to almost anyone, via email, sending a link to an upload site, etc.

    How I like to look at it, is, that the past centuries and millennia were a development phase of books and other information storage, and we finally need the people who still want to monetize information in the digital age to stop imposing ridiculous roadblocks.

  2. Steve Forbes might be correct but only because advertising in financial or “Wall Street” sector has a very high CPC ratio. Main Street publications average much less and both CTR and CPC in social networks and the long tail properties are simply dismal. It does not take a genius to calculate quickly that the 19M audience the Forbes franchise enjoys now would not account for much at a 0.09% CTR and a $0.20 CPC.

    Still, I am not for the NYT or WSJ subscription model. One can have both significant ad revenues and paid access by using the pay-as-you-go model with paid access to premium only content. More the paid access too can be sponsored by advertisers.