“We’re having our biggest print magazine readership in our 97-year history right now. You just have to listen to your readers and understand the medium that you’re working in and not try to make it something it doesn’t want to be. If you try to make a magazine like a website, it’ll be a bad magazine.” Randall Lane
With Forbes Magazine increasing readership by 10% since spring 2014 and 29% since 2013 and with its unique monthly visitors to Forbes.com rising 20.5% since November 2013, the Forbes brand is ending 2014 on a very high note indeed.
According to recently released MRI data, Forbes magazine (The ink on paper one, just in case you were asking) has achieved its highest readership ever in the U.S., increasing by over 1.5 million readers in the past year to 6.7 million. Forbes increased its U.S. readership from 5,185,000 in the Fall 2013 to 6,706,000 in the Fall 2014 — a rise of 29% and the largest figure for Forbes in MRI’s records.
And Editor Randall Lane couldn’t be more pleased with the numbers for 2014, but isn’t content to rest on those laurels as the New Year fast approaches. Randall’s vision for 2015 includes a Jan. 5th launch of the 30 Under 30 issue – now one of Forbes’ most popular franchises. He is successfully bringing to life the pages of the magazine across platforms, in digital … and spearheading summit after summit such as this year’s first-ever Under 30 Summit (featuring 1,500 game-changing millennials) and the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy.
The Forbes brand is loyal to the integration and coordination of their print and digital products, utilizing them in such a way as they enhance and embrace each other on the echelons of both platforms.
Randall and I spoke recently about his pleasure and excitement with the year 2014 and the perspective and focus he has for the New Year. From the awards the magazine won in 2014 to the controversial topic of native advertising, to the successful “Forbes Formula” that intertwines their print and digital components so succinctly they act almost as one unit; our conversation was filled with the nuances of a hopeful and positive future for the brand.
So, sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Randall Lane, Editor, Forbes Magazine.
But first the sound-bites…
On the phenomenal year Forbes had in 2014: It was a huge year when it comes to our readership increase for print and we’ve been getting big reactions to our stories. We won the Loeb Award this year for a story about the looting of Angola.
On the “Forbes Formula” that seems to be working so well for the brand: The Forbes Formula is to understand that we have an editorial point of view and that we always have and always will, and then to take each media and make it as great as it can be. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
On the controversy of native advertising: The fact that The New York Times is now doing native advertising tells you everything you need to know about it; that today, this is just a mainstream way of advertising.
On whether he saw himself and the magazine where it is today when he began his Forbes journey: That’s a good question. I think that the brand is so powerful and the history so robust that it was an honor to get the job and it’s an honor to help steward the brand and its legacy.
On the acquisition of Forbes and whether there were any changes afterward in the execution of the magazine: There were zero changes. From where I sit, it’s been great. They’ve invested in current management, and Mike (Perlis) made this clear too, they’ve given him and all of us a way to continue what we’re doing.
On any stumbling blocks he anticipates facing in 2015: I think at the end of the day, obviously, we’re well aware that we’re dealing with a very choppy situation.
On whether he could ever imagine a day without a print product among the Forbes brand: Forbes magazine is fundamental; Lewis DVorkin and Mike Perlis have always been very eloquent about that. Forbes magazine has nearly a 100-year-old tradition.
On what keeps him up at night: If it’s anything, it’s just recognizing that things shift so quickly now that if we are complacent, then we run the risk of getting run over like others who grew too comfortable.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Randall Lane, Editor, Forbes Magazine.
Samir Husni: It looks like Forbes had a wonderful year. You reported in a recent press release that things were great, both in print and in digital. Can you recap 2014 for me; what were some of the highlights of the year and a few of the ups and downs?
Randall Lane: It was a huge year when it comes to our readership increase for print and we’ve been getting big reactions to our stories. We won the Loeb Award this year for a story about the looting of Angola. We won an Overseas Press Club Award and the Morton Frank Award and several others. So we’re doing great journalism and winning awards and that lets us know the formula is working in print and it’s working online. It’s very gratifying to see that, because there are so many people who see this as a zero-sum game, where online is going to take away from print or print is going to undermine online. They don’t realize that when you’re doing them well and coordinated, they help each other. And you can see that from our numbers.
Samir Husni: You said the formula is working; can you expand a little on the Forbes Formula?
Randall Lane: The Forbes Formula is to understand that we have an editorial point of view and that we always have and always will, and then to take each media and make it as great as it can be. It’s not one-size-fits-all.
Over the last couple of years with the magazine, we’ve focused on longer stories, not shorter. A lot of people try to make their magazines more like their websites; we try to make it less like the website, they’re related, but the magazine tries to take advantage of what magazines are great at, which is long-form content, investigative reporting and beautiful photography, which we’ve invested a lot of money in.
While our website has had tremendous success by being very timely and by setting up this contributor’s network of experts, so we have expert comments and takes on things as they happen. And then we have this whole world of online business and Forbes Magazine can be much more curated and that way we’re able to set them both up and not have magazine stories on a website and web stories refurbished in print.
We focus on making the print magazine experience more of what’s great about a print magazine and we focus our website on what digital is great at, which is media feed and being able to cover topics in a timely manner.
One of our big successes in print this year that we’ve added; in fact, we just recently announced this, is our 37th global edition, Forbes Austria. We’re seeing a lot of international expansion and we’re excited about the fact that we continue to grow globally, which is part of the reason we were purchased this year by Integrated Whale Media Investments (“IWM”), they see the increased global potential.
And our events were great successes this year, which also helps with your website; we had more than half dozen huge events, led by the newest one: the Under 30 Summit. We took the 30 under 30 list from the magazine, which has become a huge sensation online, and we made it a live event where we had 1,500 people, young entrepreneurs and game-changers, meet in Philadelphia, and it was an event that I would put up against any other media company event that took place last year. And it’s going to be even bigger in 2015.
Samir Husni: I noticed that quite a bit of the revenue from the digital side is coming from native advertising. There are some critics in the media world who ask: is native advertising legitimate and does it ever have an impact on the printed magazine?
Randall Lane: In terms of what?
Samir Husni: In terms of tainting the editorial quality.
Randall Lane: Honestly, I don’t understand that argument, because magazines have had native advertising for as long as I’ve been in magazines; it’s called advertorial. That’s just native advertising, right? So, what’s new? I don’t understand. Magazines have been doing coordinated advertising for decades, and frankly, less transparently than Forbes is doing now with our native advertising. It couldn’t be clearer who the person is that’s writing the story or the post.
In the battle days of advertorial, there was a fight about how small you would make the point-size, and to me, this is much more honest. It’s not trying to squeeze the point-size down; it’s completely straightforward about where the point-of-view is coming from.
I don’t get the problem, especially in magazines, because magazines have been doing this for decades.
Samir Husni: As an editor of one of the largest business magazines, and with 37 global editions; what words of wisdom would you bestow to those who criticize native advertising in magazines and on websites?
Randall Lane: The fact that The New York Times is now doing native advertising tells you everything you need to know about it; that today, this is just a mainstream way of advertising. The key is transparency and as long as you’re transparent, to me, that’s much better than the old Kabuki dance of trying to figure out how to hide who is behind what you saw in magazine advertorials for decades. To avoid criticism of the practice, you have to focus on the transparency. As long as it’s transparent; you’re treating the readers like grownups. And frankly, some of the content is very good. It’s just important that the reader understand where it’s coming from. I’m extremely comfortable with our execution of native advertising and people are following what we do.
Samir Husni: Most critics are non-readers; have you received any criticism or objections from the readers of the magazine?
Randall Lane: I haven’t received any criticisms, not one; no complaints from our readers.
Samir Husni: As we look toward 2015 and as we also acknowledge the solid numbers that were accomplished in 2014; did you imagine when you got the job as editor-in-chief of Forbes that you would be where you are today? Or did you think that they’d hired you to kill the magazine?
Randall Lane: That’s a good question. I think that the brand is so powerful and the history so robust that it was an honor to get the job and it’s an honor to help steward the brand and its legacy.
I’ve always thought, and I continue to think, that the sky is the limit for us. It’s a global brand that means something and it’s up to us to execute the journalism and live up to that brand. And when we do, as in 2014, you see the results. And again, the online results are great and the print results are very gratifying, if only because so many people love to dump on the idea of magazines continuing to be vital, which they are, as vital as ever.
And we’re having our biggest print magazine readership in our 97-year history right now. You just have to listen to your readers and understand the medium that you’re working in and not try to make it something it doesn’t want to be. If you try to make a magazine like a website, it’ll be a bad magazine. And if you try to make a website like a print magazine, it’ll be a bad magazine; it’s just all about understanding the different nuances. If you try to do a live event like a website or a magazine, you’ll realize quickly that it has to be produced with the idea that the reader, user or the attendee should be the only thing on your mind. If you do that and you have a great brand and great journalists, writers, fact-checkers and editors, there is no reason that anyone couldn’t succeed.
Samir Husni: Randall, you seem to be on Cloud Nine. In 2015, what’s your prediction; more climbing into clear blue clouds, or a few thunderstorms?
Randall Lane: (Laughs) We see sunny skies. You’re going to see a big expansion. The Under 30 Summit was a huge success, we had everyone from Sara Blakely to Monica Lewinsky, who gave her first public speech ever and was viewed by half million people on YouTube within a week. It was the number two trending topic on Twitter, only behind Ebola for the entire three days of the summit.
We had a giant music festival with 5,000 people that kicked off the Summit, where we gave away free tickets to people who had done good things for the world. We had Wiz Khalifa and Afrojack headlining, one of the biggest DJs (Afrojack) and hip-hop artists (Khalifa) in the world.
And what’s amazing is we’re only scratching the surface. There is global potential here and we’re going to be making some announcements soon about what 2015’s Under 30 Summit will feature, but it’s going to be even bigger. We had a very successful app that went along with it.
The idea that’s been exciting to us for the last couple of years is that we’ve been able to show that the Forbes brand is actually a brand for the young. It’s very powerful among young people and what’s amazing and exciting for us is that the average age of our reader has gone down and the total number has gone up. The best part is the HHI has gone up. So, total readership up, average age down and HHI up. To bring your age down and your HHI up at the same time is very hard, but that’s what’s exciting about focusing on the under 30s is these are very, very successful people who are making a lot of money at a remarkably young age. And we are able to both lower our age demographic and increase our HHI at the same time and that’s a tough trick. And it’s something that we’re going to continue doing in the coming year.
Samir Husni: Was there any difference in atmosphere after the acquisition? With the change in ownership, were there any changes in the way the magazine is produced?
Randall Lane: There were zero changes. From where I sit, it’s been great. They’ve invested in current management, and Mike (Perlis) made this clear too, they’ve given him and all of us a way to continue what we’re doing. If you look at it, they bought into us because we are moving sharply up and they’ve been nothing but supportive of everything we’re doing.
Samir Husni: What is a major stumbling block you expect to face in 2015 and your plan to overcome it?
Randall Lane: I think at the end of the day, obviously, we’re well aware that we’re dealing with a very choppy situation. The entire media world is being disrupted, so just like everybody else, we’re well aware of the dangers you can’t see that are lurking everywhere, but we’re always looking downfield while we’re running, so it’s not that we’ve isolated anything, it’s more the idea that we know the entire landscape is constantly changing and we just have to continue to evolve and be proactive about that. We can’t sit here and pat ourselves on the back; we can’t do that because things change too much. We have to keep on innovating and pushing ourselves because the second we get on our heels, we risk falling on our fanny.
Samir Husni: Can you imagine the Forbes brand without a print product?
Randall Lane: Forbes magazine is fundamental; Lewis DVorkin and Mike Perlis have always been very eloquent about that. Forbes magazine has nearly a 100-year-old tradition. Whether or not the magazine is printed or you read it on the tablet, to me, and again if you look at our readership; we have nothing but good news to share on that front, but if you want to talk long-term, 20 years from now, there will always be a Forbes magazine.
Will it be consumed on a tablet versus dead trees, I don’t know and in some ways I don’t care as long as we’re doing great, long-form journalism, with beautiful photography and a point of view and doing our lists and turning them into great events and driving the website; as long as we’re able to execute what I think a magazine is; I think print, in some ways, is almost a misnomer, it’s the magazine that I’m focused on. But the print magazine right now is doing great.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Randall Lane: If it’s anything, it’s just recognizing that things shift so quickly now that if we are complacent, then we run the risk of getting run over like others who grew too comfortable.
What keeps me up at night is ironically what’s going to keep moving us all forward, which is we cannot get complacent because in this market, in this environment, that’s a very big risk. You can’t sit there and think that you’ve figured it all out and now you’re done. You can’t ever be done or else; if you think you’re done then that’s when you should be able to go to sleep.
Samir Husni: Thank you.