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Forbes gives The Drum a glimpse into a great magazine success story

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

April 3, 2013 | 6 min read

Forbes is that rare bird among magazines: one that is making advances on all fronts – from newsstand sales to advertising to a dynamic online presence.

Russian tycoon Prokhorov: a powerful Page 1

The New York-based magazine will have 30 international editions before the end of the year, "making Forbes the most impactful business and finance media brand on the planet," according to Forbes Media CEO Mike Perlis in an internal memo for staff this week.

The Drum was given a sight of the memo, which explains how much of that growth has come about – and reveals where the magazine is going.

Perlis told employees this week: "As you've heard me say before, it's our goal at Forbes Media to grow our business to be as big as our brand. So, how are we doing?

"In 2012, in a disrupted marketplace, we achieved our best financial performance in the last five years."

The magazine itself, Perlis said, is "today more relevant than ever". He added: "Cover after cover, issue after issue, we continue to inform, engage and surprise readers. As a result, we maintain our strong, long-held 900,000 rate base."

Insiders at Forbes stress the importance of "compelling covers" to drive up sales and there has been a distinct 'people-centric strategy' over the last two years, which has seen the magazine profile business leaders or 'disruptors' who have dared to change the world.

The Billionaire issue this month saw Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, talked about as a possible successor to Vladimir Putin, take the front page.

On the disruptor front, the cover of Forbes’s 30 Under 30 issue in January featured Tumblr founder David Karp.

Perlis stressed in his memo: "On newsstands, our iconic covers, the power of the Forbes brand and message as well as the increased social sharing of Forbes content on the web continue to support sales.

"In 2012, Forbes's newsstand sales were up 2 per cent compared to 2011, while the industry was down 10 per cent."

Print ad pages increased nearly 4 per cent last year, compared to an industry decline of 8 per cent. Forbes' market share was 39 per cent in 2012, up 4 per cent over 2011.

"While things are positive for us in print, the marketplace is challenging so we remain vigilant and conservative," wrote Perlis. "We seem to be bucking the trend and feel like we can continue to post modest gains."

He talked of more and more licensed local editions of Forbes around the world.

"In 2008 we had eight editions. We're currently at 27 and will be at 30 before the end of the year. That makes Forbes the most impactful business and finance media brand on the planet.

"Our most successful edition is Forbes Russia; most recently launched were Spain and Mexico – and Thailand is next in line."

Forbes magazine, and particularly the covers, are the "front door to the brand," he said.

That door opens to the extraordinary growth taking place in digital, of which Perlis said: "We're on track to finish March with close to 50 million unique visitors to Forbes.com, as measured by Omniture. In 2012 digital revenues for Forbes Media increasing 19 per cent compared to 2011.

"Importantly, half of our total ad revenues for the year came from digital – the first time our digital business has reached that threshold. Our first quarter will boast 30 per cent growth over last year."

BrandVoice, the Forbes "thought leadership platform for brands, has, since its launch in June 2010, served more than two dozen marketers in digital and print – and the list continues to grow."

According to the memo, last year 10 per cent of Forbes's advertising revenues came from advertisers who incorporated BrandVoice into their buys, and the company is projecting that to rise to 25 per cent by the end of this year.

Forbes's tablet product, launched in January, is a real wow, said Perlis: "The ability to seamlessly move from the tablet product to Forbes.com and the web is extraordinary. To date, we have broken through 200,000 downloads.

"Our conference initiatives are gaining real momentum. Following the success of the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy last June, we launched an impressive Healthcare Summit in December, featuring over 200 industry leaders.

Steve Forbes's sense that healthcare would be front of mind immediately following the US election was spot on.

"We plan to host another Healthcare Summit this October.

"Later this month, we're launching our second annual Forbes Asia Power Businesswomen Forum in Bangkok. As we gain experience and confidence, we'll also be executing a Forbes Women's Summit May 8-9 in New York. In June, we're holding another Philanthropy Summit in New York."

The grandaddy of all Forbes conferences – the Forbes Global CEO Conference – is held in Bali in September this year. "It's the tent pole for many successful events in Asia."

Brand extension opportunities continues to grow, said Perlis: "A wine club, education, business clubs, building signage, financial services, TV, Forbes Insights' expansion in Europe and Asia, and branded clothing to name a few."

Adweek said that since launching its BrandVoice platform in 2010, Forbes has become one of the leaders in native advertising.

The magazine said that fuelled the debate over whether publishers should be running sponsored posts alongside – and sometimes indistinguishable from – editorial content.

But Adweek added: "Ethics aside, the conceit seems to be working: In the wake of a Pew report that sponsorship advertising was up 40 percent in 2012, Forbes Media is touting the growth of its own revenues – thanks, in part, to its success with native ads."

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