When the Editors Weblog first reported on Forbes’s acquisition of True/Slant, an online-only news source that published the work of hundreds of expert contributors, it was rather unclear how the start-up would fare as part of Forbes’s vast media empire. Many saw the sale as a means for Forbes to re-employ True/Slant’s creator Lewis Dvorkin, who resigned as an executive editor at the business publication in 2008. After the sale, Dvorkin rejoined Forbes as chief product officer, charged with increasing audience engagement and re-working Forbes’s titles.
Two years later, it has become evident that Dvorkin was not willing to put aside his publishing platform; he and his team have been in the process of integrating True/Slant’s business model and ethos into Forbes.com over the past two years, with enormous success. Since Dvorkin’s return, Forbes.com has seen traffic to its site double, with a record 31.5 million users reported for the month of June 2012. Digital revenues in the first half of this year have increased by 26 percent compared to the same period in 2011 and click throughs have risen by 25 to 30 percent. There has also been a striking change in the way in which users are finding and accessing Forbes content. Whilst only 1 percent of traffic to the site came from social media sites in 2010, this has now grown to 15-17 percent per month, and traffic from search engines has risen from 25 to 40 percent.
In a blog post on Forbes’s website, Dvorkin claims that the impressive statistics are almost entirely thanks to the introduction of a True/Slant-esque contributor content model, which puts “authoritative journalism at the centre of a social media experience.” The site’s community of 1000 contributors (in addition to Forbes’s full-time journalists) is able to post roughly 400 articles a day. As well as providing each contributor with the tools necessary to publishing content in real time, Forbes.com also encourages each contributing writer to establish a social media presence, to build an audience for their work and to interact with readers. Speaking to journalism.co.uk, Dvorkin explained: "We built a single page for the individually-branded content creator where that person's photo is there, their name is there, their followers are there, their Facebook Subscribe people are there, there is a bio of who they are and what their knowledge is."
Contributors are responsible for moderating their own community and the majority benefit from an incentive-payment program. Contributing writers receive financial "rewards" based on the size and loyalty of their audiences: they receive a fee for every unique visitor to their page, “but,” says Dvorkin, “they are paid a multiple of that amount if the user comes back a second time." The generation of a loyal fan-base is therefore of mutual benefit to both writer and publisher.
Incorporating a social element into Forbes’s online content also appears to have benefitted the fortunes of its magazine. Dvorkin is convinced that a link exists between Forbes’s increased visibility across the social web and the fact that its print edition is currently defying an industry-wide drop in sales. ABC figures for January to June 2012 show that single copy sales of Forbes rose by 4.3 percent, compared to the same period the year before, whilst magazine sales in general diminished by 9 percent.
The combination of a new media model and the website of a traditional media brand is exactly the kind of cross-over that breathes new life into journalism and is a step towards ensuring high-quality content remains relevant in this increasingly digital era. Forbes.com’s content contribution model is not intended to be a full-time job for contributors, but it does provide individual writers with the online presence necessary to gather a popular web following and allows experts in fields such as health, business and technology a platform where they can provide readers with greater amounts of context and in-depth analysis.