Monday, November 18, 2013

Forbes for sale; Is digital success fluke or future?

Forbes Media has announced that it is up for sale.  The move was first announced in a memo to employees last Friday.  Forbes CEO and President Mike Perlis said the decision to pursue a sale came after several initial "serious" offers had been made.
Forbes magazine has seen the same downturn in print advertising as its competitors, with a 12.3% decline in the number of ad pages over the first three quarters of 2013.  However, it's been more successful than most of its print competition in growing its digital side. Digital circulation at has more than doubled over the last three years, and digital earnings currently account for about half of total revenues for the parent firm.
One analyst indicated that potential buyers needed to ask 2 basic questions.  First, was the rapid growth in digital revenues driven by its aggressive branded-content emphasis in combination with its unpaid-blogger strategy? Second, if that's the case, why is Forbes up for sale?

Print media has been losing value in recent years, and increasing distribution costs and declining ad print ad sales have imperiled traditional print business models.  Many recent print sales (Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsweek, Maxim) were at levels 80-90% below peak valuation.  In contrast, some of the early numbers suggest Forbes could go for only 20-25% below peak valuation.  That does suggest that Forbes Media may have been more successful in developing its digital side and business model.  That includes cost savings by ditching professional journalists in favor of unpaid bloggers (the Huffington Post model), and their pioneering "native advertising" Brandvoice program.  Native advertising is a bit controversial for its combination of interactive targeting and using ad content that mimics their editorial content.  The combination makes the more of a bazaar than a traditional journalistic outlet.
One critic suggests that the noise and choice of the bazaar will start to wear on the traditional passive news consumer and thus will be, in the long term, unsustainable.  And knowing that, current Forbes leadership is looking to exploit their short term success.  On the other hand, perhaps the bazaar is a much more comfortable venue for the younger Internet generations - after all, its really not that different from the Wild West of the Web.  Younger Internet users are used to having access to an abundance of content, interactivity and targeting, evaluating the value of content, and even seeking to place their own content for wider access.  If that's the case, Forbes Media may be positioning itself to take advantage of the changing audience interests and behaviors of younger media consumers.

Sources -  'Forbes' Placed On The Auction Block,  MediaDailyNews
Running For The Exit,  Garfield at Large blog,

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