A couple of decades ago if media analysts been asked to predict which of the major US print publications would be at the cutting edge of the digital revolution they would probably have overlooked Forbes. The business based magazine, which was formed as long ago as 1917 by the current Editor in chief’s grandfather, has however prospered in the online media era while many of its rivals have faltered.
Much of its success can arguably be attributed to a trio of innovations which it introduced earlier in the decade. Firstly it pioneered a unique content creation model (an expert contributor network that included experts and pundits and not just journalists). Then Forbes rebuilt the newsroom labour model - an incentive-based payment plan for contributors. Lastly it pioneered native advertising with its BrandVoice platform, arguably the best of the early incarnations of that format.
Much of the way in which Forbes.com has been transformed has been down to Lewis D'Vorkin. In some ways he is an unlikely digital guru given his long and influential career in print journalism. Yet the man credited with igniting huge traffic and serious revenues at Forbes.com has become a key maven in the digital word. When he talks, people tend to stop and listen.
Lewis spoke at the Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS) in Berlin, Germany) in 2012 (in 2016, the DIS takes place from 20-22 March – find out more about next year’s event, here). Here, Ashley Norris catches up with Lewis for the DIS.
It has been copied in varying degrees by many organisations. They don’t talk about it as openly as we do and they haven’t implemented as deeply as we have. Often they use the term freelancers and they still pay by the word or the story. It’s not easy to implement an effective incentive model. In fact, it takes a commitment throughout the organisation.
Millennials will soon represent 50 per cent of the worldwide workforce, and the relentless use of mobile devices for everything is being driven by their preferences on how to consume content, share it and communicate. Forbes is about success. Forbes is about aspiration. Both cut across all generations, from boomers, to yuppies, the millennials, to whatever come next.
BrandVoice will continue to evolve, on Forbes.com and in Forbes magazine. Look for new digital pages that more seamlessly combine editorial and BrandVoice, always fully transparent and clearly labelled. In print, we have many ideas for BrandVoice treatments that further integrate marketing content, again always labelled as such.
Ad blockers are an issue. I’m a guest Skype instructor at my alma mater and when I asked students if they used ad blockers 75 per cent of them raised their hands. Forbes doesn’t face the same use of ad blockers as other sites, but we continue to monitor the situation. Remember that line in Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs of the same sex found a way to mate. Just as life found a way in Jurassic Park, display ads will find a way on the Internet.
To be bold, inventive and disruptive. It’s a noisy market that requires new ideas and ways of doing business to succeed.
Facebook and Twitter remain important to Forbes, but Google search is still critical to our business. I would advise paying attention to any platform that stresses the visual over text.
Yes, we’re now bringing on video contributors, and the early signs are quite encouraging. We’re also producing more video by aligning our content channels more closely with our video team. It remains a work in progress, as it does for all news organisations. The name of the game in video is distribution and we’re working very hard on that.
Our magazine content is vital to Forbes.com. Deep investigative reporting is highly valued on the Web and the discipline of creating it for our magazine is what sets us apart from many of the new content startups that are building audience with aggregated content or, in some cases, by pandering to social audiences.
I often say there is nothing new in the media business — except the technology. The trick is to apply all the lessons learned over the decades to the new technology at our fingertips.
Advertisers want targeted audiences and scale. Our new Under 30 app enables marketers to get out their messages to millennial influencers – the cream of the crop. At the same time, much of the content produced on the app by thousands of Under 30’s (expert content in its own way) will be used for a new Under 30 channel on Forbes.com. That Web experience will provide marketers with audiences at scale. We will then repeat this strategy for other passionate communities, creating a platform of apps with corresponding Web expressions.
I follow them all. I never like to name. However, there is one that I find uniquely intriguing. In fact, I’m on its board of directors. The Mighty is a site aimed at children with autism and other diseases – and their parents, too. It’s using a contributor model to get stories out there that are both inspirational and helpful to families. I believe it is serving communities the way the Web can. I also believe it will be able to connect families with pharmaceutical companies in ways that other sites cannot.
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“The notion that print is dead is not accurate. I think print isn’t dead, it’s just different. Gone are the times where you can operate with an inflated rate base or 12 times per year as a standard. And I think gone are the days too where you were just concerned with whether there was enough fax paper in the machine where you got all of your signed insertion orders back. Those days are behind us. But print for many companies, Bonnier included, is still profitable. It’s just not at the margins that we once enjoyed. And I feel strongly that brands that sit one or two in a category or vertical can thrive if managed correctly.” - Eric Zinczenko, CEO, Bonnier Corporation12th Mar 2018 Features
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