Michael Wolff writes Monday for the Guardian how a profile in The New York Times last week helped Forbes magazine create an illusion of success, allowing it to put itself up for sale.
Wolff writes, “Forbes had clearly used the Times to help create an illusion. In fact, illusion is what the Forbes business had largely become. Forbes was once the business magazine of the high-trouser country-club set, a rock of free marketeering and bible of mid-size company executives, worth several billion dollars. Then, along with other business magazines after the dotcom crash, it began slipping. And slipping.
“Forbes responded to this evident existential change in a different way than most of its peer group magazines, who went into a long period of denial. A single title that supported the multi-generational Forbes family, Forbes openly began to panic. In addition to selling off assets – including its Fabergé eggs, its yacht, and its real estate – the Forbes family, which had long run the magazine, seemed to throw up its hands and let anybody who was game have a whack at it.
“The first result, pioneered by Jim Spanfeller, was a web strategy, as aggressive as almost any from an established magazine. While its traffic methods became the focus of great skepticism and outright derision, at the same time it helped create the more or less dubious models that almost all traffic aggregators have used since.
“While the magazine’s core business tanked, its traffic spiked, making it became one of the few traditional print properties to successfully push the illusion of its own transformation. Elevation Partners, a Silicon Valley venture fund, less known for its technology investment prowess than for its relationship with Bono, bought into the Forbes transformation in 2006 and helped buttress its cash drain.”
Read more here.