Steve Forbes on BusinessWeek's travails and the paid-content question

Steve Forbes, editor in chief of Forbes magazine and former Republican presidential candidate, was at the Paley Center for Media Tuesday afternoon to talk about the economy as part of Advertising Week. But what I really wanted to know is what he thinks of BusinessWeek. Why doesn't Forbes -- or just about anyone else, it seems, apart from Bloomberg -- want to buy it, especially considering it may end up costing as little as a buck?

"When something is free, you probably should look underneath the hood," Forbes quipped. (Indeed, in this case the $1 magazine comes with $43 million in annual losses and $31 million in debt. Caveat emptor.)
"BusinessWeek has faced what a lot of us have faced, but they've faced it more severely," he said. "It's a storm that has spared no one. Rather than buying up others, we've been focusing on how do we refit ourselves for this new era. Thankfully we went very heavily into the internet and put a lot of resources on it seven or eight years ago when everyone else putting theirs in deep freeze."

I also asked Forbes if he foresees his namesake magazine switching its website from an all-free model to one where readers would have to pay to access some or all content.

"I think what you're going to see is a whole slew of people trying various things," he said. "There's certain content, specialty content, where that might work. We do it with some of our letters. We'll have to see how what they call microprocessing, where you'd pay half a penny for an article, how that might work." (I'm pretty sure he meant micropayments.)

"There's going to be a lot of ferment. But I don't think it's going to be one-size-fits-all. I think it's going to be tailored to very specific sites and very specific types of distribution."

That sounds like the philosophy of Journalism Online, the e-commerce start-up founded by Steve Brill and Gordon Crovitz to help newspapers find the best way to charge readers for content. Is Forbes planning to do business with them? "We're very familiar with Gordon, and I know Steve Brill by reputation, so yeah. We're talking to them."
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