One year after Forbes sold a significant minority stake to Elevation Partners, Rafat Ali, ContentNext’s publisher and editor, opened the Future of Business Media Conference at the Walforf=Astoria in NYC discussing the issues that have confronted the website as it sought to differentiate itself from its print counterpart and the larger competitive landscape.
– Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com: The web is not media, it’s a platform. It allows the for the opportunity for having a bunch of different media organized together. The brand is both analogous to its offline title, but it’s also something apart. We are a separate different entity. People come to the site for different reasons than they do for the magazine.
– Roger McNamee, founding partner, Elevation Partners: Talking about all the different redesigns, The magazine serves different needs than other business magazines do, we’re much much focused on investments than others. The audience needs something that has not been possible before. The web is a great place for bringing, not just the data, but the interpretation. It’s a light thing you can read on the toilet. But on the web, it’s way more dynamic, as a consequence, every week is a completely different business. The magazine has a slower evolution.
– Traffic: Balancing C-level demos with mass: Spanfeller wants a “wide aperture” that brings the mass, with a narrower view that brings a highly valued, if smaller, audience. The has consistently drawn 20 million uniques on a monthly basis, he said, indicating that the magazine has been achieving a balance on that point.
– McNamee: Trying to reproduce the same audience online as in the magazine would not be the most useful approach. You can’t cover one set of insights. There are other reasons newspapers and magazines may get rid of themselves, not because of the web. The team at Forbes has recognized that its going to change over time. We have a challenging 10-year mission because the audience isn’t well-served. I think Forbes does a great job, but it doesn’t do everything that its audience needs. Everyday, our audience wakes up hoping to read something that will get them rich and we hope to satisfy that desire to some extent.
– Consolidation: While hinting at its own acquisition plans, with a possible purchase to be announced in the next few weeks, the consolidation waves taking place in the shadow of Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) and News Corp. will force hard decisions on subscriptions. McNamee touts the approach of Forbes. Spanfeller said the would be dropping the registration barrier, but a few years after deciding not to charge for content, this seems like an inevitable – and much less painful decision.
– 10 Years On: After prefacing his answer by saying he didn’t foresee the rise of social nets and the iPod, McNamee said he would guess 90 percent of the words on the site would come from the audience and the role would be to provide guidance and shape to that content.