Having already admitted it’s considering selling BusinessWeek, McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP) is turning to more immediate cost-cutting in the form of 550 layoffs, mostly in its education unit. But the media and information unit that BusinessWeek, along with J.D. Power and Associates, is apart of is not unscathed, as 125 positions are being cut there. It wasn’t clear how many posts would be cut at BusinessWeek. The company also announced that in slicing 340 jobs at the education unit, all the divisions in that segment would be combined into a single entity. As a result of today’s layoffs, McGraw-Hill said it would take a $15.2 million, ($0.03 per share) charge on its Q2 earnings, which will be reported on July 28. The total cuts represent roughly 2.8 percent of McGraw-Hill’s over 21,000 employees.
Two well-placed sources told paidContent that BusinessWeek was not affected by the layoffs. Release
Murphy came ready to outline his approach to getting the MREA passed:
I’m a very aggressive person and we have a multi-tiered plan of attack on this. First, I’m meeting one-on-one with all my colleagues in Congress (especially conservative Democrats and reps in tough districts) on both sides of the aisle. Secondly, we’re doing the Voices of Honor Tour going around to hit strategic congressional districts where we can most effect change. If you have an idea for additional places we should visit email me at letthemserve.com. Obviously, I’m working closely with the White House and have been having discussions with the Department of Defense.
It’s hard to nail down a firm timeline at the moment, but it’s something I want to happen as soon as possible. The key is making sure we have the votes — 218 — to pass it. We’re getting closer every day. Today we’re at 162 and we’re not going to quit until we get it done.
Asked why President Barack Obama hadn’t done more with his executive authority to repeal the law (for example such as using his stop-loss powers), Murphy defended the president’s approach:
I think that this is a really tough issue and there have been a lot of calls for the President to do this. I know I mentioned it before, but the President — to his credit — seems not to want to ignore standing law that was passed by the Congress.
We had a saying at West Point “Take the harder right over the easier wrong.” The President doesn’t want to clearly contradict US law, even though I feel that this law is fundamentally wrong and discriminatory. It shows why Congress needs to change it. We’ve gotten 16 congressmen and women in the first week to come on board, but we’re not stopping until we get the job done. In fact, we just got an additional cosponsor today — so we’re up to 162.
Frankly, as much as I admire the fight in Murphy’s belly, I think that when it comes to the elocution of first-order principles for elected officials, Murphy hits this on squarely on the head:
A lot of folks are asking me if this is in the best interests of my political future, especially considering I only won my first election by 0.6%. But too often in Washington people worry about keeping their own seats safe as compared to doing the right thing and bringing about the change our country needs. So in this matter specifically, national security and equality trump political expediency.
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Forbes.com President-CEO Jim Spanfeller is leaving after nine years. His next move includes a plan to start his own media-management firm, which will take control of and stakes in struggling websites from traditional media companies, rebuild them into moneymaking enterprises and then sell those stakes back to the media companies. In an Ad Age interview, he explained why he thinks media companies might want to hand their sites over to him; why oversupply isn't the biggest reason online ad rates are so low; and why articles about nude beaches aren't the key to Forbes.com's traffic.
The MAAWG conducted 800 interviews by phone and Internet across the US with people who had e-mail addresses not managed by a corporate IT staff. It found that two-thirds of the group said that they were very or somewhat experienced with Internet security, and a majority used filters of some kind in order to avoid spam. Eighty-two percent were aware of bots and botnets, though not many believed they were at risk of being victimized by one.
Slightly less than half (48 percent) said that they have never clicked on a spam e-mail. That’s the good news, but that means the other half have clicked on or responded to spam. But why? The answers will undoubtedly horrify you. A full 12 percent said that they were interested in the product or service being offered—those erection drug and mail order bride ads do reach a certain market, it appears.
Seventeen percent said that they made a mistake when they did so—understandable—but another 13 percent said they simply had no idea why they did it; they just did. Another six percent “wanted to see what would happen.”
The company formerly known as Macrovision, in an effort to rebrand itself for the mashup world of social media, over-the-top video and pay TV, relaunched today as Rovi. The new company, whose shares will trade under the symbol ROVI on the Nasdaq, will attempt to tie together its string of acquisitions over the past few years and refashion itself as a one-stop software shop for on-screen guides in the new world of integrated media.
Macrovision was never a household name, but that’s probably a good thing given its legacy business in that pesky realm of copy protection. The company has been the biggest player in disc copy protection for DVDs, with its legacy ACP copy protection as well as some of its more recent efforts with RipGuard.
Consumers probably recognize its on-screen guides, however. Acquired through its acquisition of Gemstar-TV Guide, those on-screen grids which many of us scroll through to find and discover shows are in over 24 million homes. It also owns AMG, one of the leading providers of metadata to iTunes or others.
The New Company
But the company has seen the future, and its networked. To usher in this new age of connected media, Rovi has announced a new guide called Liquid. Targeted at makers of web-connected HDTVs and Blu-ray players, Liquid will allow companies to integrate pay-TV services through the traditional Gemstar grid guide, but includes modules for broadband video and personal content as well.
For online video, the company has partnered with Blockbuster to integrate Blockbuster OnDemand, and will integrate YouTube XL and CinemaNow.
The guide will also be social. Rovi’s first partnership here is with Flixster, an online movie recommendation sharing site, and over time Rovi expects to integrate more technology partners to make viewing TV –- both the traditional pay-TV and newteevee types –- more social through recommendation, favoriting and personalization.
Given its mixture of assets, Liquid is a good first step for the newly renamed company. It takes Rovi’s many ingredients to make integrated viewing across different media types necessary — its flagship programming guides, home network software to connect devices and metadata to correctly identify content, are all combined into one product. This makes a lot of sense, and it positions Rovi as a strong partner for consumer electronics companies looking to integrate the various worlds of traditional TV, newteevee and personal content.
However, before a verdict can be delivered on the new company and media guide, Rovi needs to show more in the way of web-service integration and hardware partner wins.
Flixster is OK, but everyone will want to tie Facebook and possibly Twitter recommendations into their viewing experience. Blockbuster OnDemand? Meh. Give me Amazon or Hulu, or at the very least, Netflix.
As for partners, I’d like to see some big consumer electronics names before I know if Liquid will be a success. All of the big names in the CE space have either announced or are already shipping web-connected HDTVs and BD-Live enabled Blu-ray players. A guide like this could be a very good complement for software-challenged CE companies.
Going forward, Rovi’s challenge will be to ride its cash-cow businesses in grid guides and content protection until the new world of connected entertainment provides enough of a market to sustain entirely new businesses. The company is well positioned to do it, so we just need to see if it can execute.
You can read more of my analysis on this and other connected home topics over at GigaOM Pro, our subscription research service.
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Evian's rollerskating-babies campaign generated buzz for its cuteness factor, its weirdness factor and, as Visible Measures pointed out, for having multiple creative iterations, many receiving more than 1 million views each.
A few years ago, BusinessWeek’s Steve Baker and I sat over coffee concocting a scheme to create a crowd-sourced, wiki-based, curated effort to get the magazine’s readers to fix General Motors. Oh, if only we’d done it, BW’s crowd might have saved us taxpayers billions.
Well, now, BusinessWeek is for sale and whoever gets it – it is a valuable franchise with a very valuable and wise crowd – will need to reinvent it. I was going to suggest that the magazine do for itself what we were thinking of doing for GM. But Steve beat me to it.
Steve also contemplates what he calls the “last 5%” of a magazine’s process that picks every nit and sands and polishes. It’s the magazine way, especially among weeklies in America, and though I saw improvements from it, it also drove me nuts when I worked in it. “This last 5% consumes a sizeable effort and expense< " Steve says. "The question the next (or current) owner of BusinessWeek is going to have to grapple with is whether such attention to detail is worth it, or, alternatively, whether there's another way to achieve the same goal."
The assumption behind that last 5% is that there’s perfection to be reached: a right way to tell this story. I don’t think that’s true. But there is value to be added in the last – what? – 20% of effort: adding reporting, answering questions, adding perspective, giving context, and – as Steve points out – trimming out repetition and excess, adding efficiency for the reader. That’s the value that journalists can add. But how much is too much? Says Steve:
But my problem with the 5% process has to do with insularity. Much of the analysis has to do with a team of people in a midtown skyscraper imagining what “the reader” knows and wants to know. With blogs, we now have the tools to ask. But the business model calls for secrecy. So instead of asking, we imagine. Our discussions involve conflicting interpretations of what is going on inside of the reader’s head. . . .
The entire discussion is based on the one-size-fits-all paradigm of the industrial age. It’s got (at least) two problems: First, it’s expensive. Second, readers are seeing in rest of their lives, from TiVo to their double-shot half-skim half-caf latte that one size doesn’t have to fit all. Even dogs these days are built to order. In this world, many business readers want and expect customization.
BusinessWeek has been trying to bring that customization – its mass of niches – with its Business Exchange, where readers and journalists curate topics. At Aspen, the magazine’s editor, Steve Adler, told me that advertisers also prefer it because BX provides targeting and relevance.
Steve starts the discussion about the next BW speculating on how communities and algorithms can help do what BW has done.
PaidContent also curates others’ suggestions for the new BW here.
I think the future BW revolves around its wise crowd: more than 900,000 people who know business, so how do we get to know what they know? More later.
Automaker Smart wanted to show that its Fortwo model might be small — measuring just 1.5 meters by 3 meters — but it's still fun. The solution was to create "big fun in a small space." With that in mind, Smart looked for small spaces in which to promote the world's smallest online game.
For a more in-depth look at this Idea of the Week and other case studies, visit Ad Age and CMDglobal's Inspiration site.
Brian Frank riffs on yesterday’s post on the license to fail and argues that our standard for success should not be perfection but instead “generativity”:
. . . instead of evaluating things on how well they accord with preconceived models and assumptions, let’s evaluate things by looking at how many unexpected new opportunities they generate.
Failure breaks things open and allows us to remix the pieces in different ways. If we don’t do this from time-to-time — if we just keep accumulating more mass onto the same framework — eventually it gets too bulky and falls on our heads.
There are lots of interesting nuggets of ideas in his rambling on the idea. Frank illustrates his point talking about the progression of scientific theory from Newton to quantum and Einstein: “But now it’s becoming more difficult to stand on Newton’s shoulders. His ideas aren’t as generative anymore; they perpetuate more than they generate.” I don’t know enough there to agree or disagree; I see Frank searching for a metaphor for what I’ve been calling beta-think or what I’ve been arguing with newspaper people about finding opportunities wherever they see problems:
Much of the new science — like the new economy — is not about layering subsequent successes on top of each other, but they are generative in the sense that they open up new fields to explore. They are adventures that could very likely fail to prove their original hypotheses but can’t fail to generate new ideas and insights.
Next Frank tries his worldview on human psychology as he also challenges perfection as the goal:
Even looking at the people who hold perfection in high esteem, it isn’t perfection itself that motivates them, it’s the challenge of pursuing it — and the sneaking uncertainty that they can’t attain it: it’s a dare….
If you take the uncertainty and randomness and genuine risk out of life (as in, risking oneself, not just other people’s money) you take the life out of life…
So why would we perpetuate organizations, rules, and systems that are based on the fundamental assumption that randomness and uncertainty can be mechanized and ordered into a irrelevance?
He and I agree that this effort at order comes out of the industrial age: the need and drive to mechanize and systematize everything to do because that’s what the means of mass production and distribution demanded. In WWGD?, I argue that we are leaving that age and entering an economy and society built on abundance and knowledge (which, to return to Frank’s point, comes when you expand past old assumptions: when you generate new ideas). He concludes:
The society that embraces uncertainty, nurtures a love for it (i.e. a love of learning) and develops institutions that thrive because of randomness rather than despite it, will eventually have the most success, generation-by-generation.
: Howard Weaver also responds to my post, riffing on failure and perfection in cultures, industries, and economies:
In private life – business and commerce, the academy, creative endeavors – Jeff’s point is fundamentally applicable. I was lucky enough to be taught as a young editor periodically to ask the folks I worked with, “When was the last time you made a good mistake?”
I’d stress, of course, that a “good mistake” didn’t involve coming in drunk and misspelling all the names. A good mistake was one where we learned something we couldn’t have learned otherwise, where we were better off afterward for what we learned, where we had a clearer vision of what to try next.
Weaver agrees with Craig Newmark on British failurephobia and that makes me finally come up with a theory for what I’ve observed from my Guardian colleagues in political and media news in the U.K.: I call it the off-with-their-heads reflex that comes whenever a TV exec or a government minister or someone under them messes up. We see moments of that in America, of course. But we need to focus less on the mistake – the fall from perfection – and more on the question of whether the mistake is fixed and the lesson learned; if so, then the experience and the person may be valuable; if not, fine, behead them.
: LATER: There’s an interesting discussion about the beta life at the Business Innovation Factory.
The New York Times technology blog, Bits, which features original online reporting by all of the NYT technology journalists, has formally launched a new feature called “What We’re Reading.” This feature (powered by Publish2) illustrates a number of important best practices for how journalists and news orgs can create significant value for readers by curating the web. I’ve got six of them for you.
But first, here’s what the feature looks like, in the blog’s right sidebar, under the ad at the top (click for larger image):
And here are the six best practices:
1. Make it a collaborative effort.
With all that journalists are being asked to do on the web, it’s not ideal from a workflow perspective for one reporter or editor to carry the burden of curating the web. Bit’s “What We’re Reading,” like the blog, is a collaborative effort of NYT technology
The proposal is an award system for bloggers. It is not simple because if The Huffington Post were to reward bloggers based solely on page views, bloggers might be inclined to write fluffy, celebrity-focused articles and the site could devolve into PerezHilton.com. If The Huffington Post were to reward bloggers based solely on editorial quality, there would be no incentive for bloggers to send around their stories and encourage friends to bookmark them. So although the following may seem complicated, it aims to check and balance the mixture of elements that make The Huffington Post what it is, while rewarding bloggers for providing this mixture.
According to TNS Media Intelligence, The Huffington Post’s advertising revenue from January through April 2009 was $3.4 million. So let’s round down and assume that ad revenue for the year is $10 million. I propose that The Huffington Post commit to spending 20% of its revenue rewarding bloggers. For 2009, this would be $2 million.
Not all bloggers will be rewarded. There are 4,000 bloggers that contribute to the site, and this structure only rewards those who contribute the most to the site’s business and editorial goals.
$2 million a year is $166,666 a month.
Every month authors of the 200 articles that receive the highest number of page views would receive $250 bonuses.
Every month authors of the 200 articles that result in the most time spent on the site would receive $250 bonuses.
Every month authors of the 200 articles that are of the highest editorial quality would receive $250 bonuses.*
Every month authors of the 165 or so articles with the highest number of inbound links would receive $100 bonuses. (Methodology would have to be determined to ensure the validity of inbound links. Potentially the links would be weighted based on page rank.)
Everything’s up for change at the biz mags this week, it seems. Fortune is launching a new tech site this morning, called BrainstormTech (screenshot here), complementing its eight-year-old Brainstorm conference. The site will be a sub-section on Fortune.com, and brings together an all-star team of reporters on a WordPress-driven blog. Besides contributions from its journalists, it will have guest columns from tech execs, including at launch, from Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Brightcove, John Chen, CEO of Sybase, and Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen Phone. And of course, video from its Green and Tech Brainstorm conferences.
Since there are lots of threads to this, I will give it the bullet-point treatment for ease of grokking:
—When I first heard of it this morning, my first reaction was, why? But then, why not? Yes, they’re the last ones into the party, but they do have a great team of senior tech journalists, including Stephanie Mehta, Adam Lashinsky, Michael Copeland, Jessi Hempel, Philip Elmer-DeWitt and others (where’s our friend Richard Siklos?). Most of them I grew up admiring. They all came together after Business 2.0 closed two years ago and Time Inc merged the tech journalists with Fortune. —But nothing much has happened since then, despite some individual blogs, with low traffic, infrequent updates and no coherent strategy. —The Fortune.com web presence has been a joke over the years: if CNN.com and CNNMoney didn’t throw traffic at it, it would have faded into further oblivion a long time ago. —The mag’s tech coverage, which Time Inc CEO Ann Moore promised to be the best in the industry when they folded Business 2.0 journalists in, has been sub-par as well (sorry, a Marc Andreessen cover story in the latest issue, when he’s out speaking to everyone about his new fund, doesn’t count). Which again is a pity, considering the talent. —If this new site launch only helps in raising the metabolism of their otherwise low-productivity but excellent journalists, all the more power to them. —They didn’t want me to call the new site a “blog”. Whatever. It runs on WordPress, and the official URL is http://brainstormtech.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/. Deal with it. —I can’t give you my take on the quality of the site, because they wouldn’t provide a login before it launched, and one screenshot doesn’t help. They wouldn’t give me anything more. —David Kirkpatrick, senior editor at Fortune and the most visible of the lot, is not officially a part of this effort, as he is on an extended leave to write his book on Facebook. He may contribute to it down the line. —The Brainstorm Tech conference is here in Pasadena next week, with some big-name speakers including Barry Diller, Bob Iger, Tim Armstrong, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jon Miller and others. The site’s launch coincides with it. —Now to the more political part: there are obvious parallels to the AllThingsD website and D conference by the WSJ. That there is no love lost between the two teams is no secret. Brainstorm the conference started in 2001, by Kirkpatrick and Walter Isaacson, in Apsen, a year before the D conference was launched by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. Since then, the Brainstorm conference has gone through a few iterations of purpose, from a tech focus to a general business focus, to splitting it up into two conferences, and at least for the last two years that I attended it, it seemed like a wannabe-D conference despite the quality of speakers. (I can’t judge the previous versions ‘cause I wasn’t there). The D conference has grown to be the definitive event in the media industry, and AllThingsD the website launched two years ago, has quickly emerged to be a force in the tech-media landscape. Now the Brainstorm Tech site, which is also trying to build a conference into an online franchise, will have to forge its path. And if they do well, they will do it despite of all the legacy they inherit from the magazine, not because of it. And in the meantime, CNN.com and CNNMoney can push gobs of traffic to it. —There’s lots happening at Fortune the print magazine. I won’t get into it. And no, Andy Serwer is not leaving anytime soon.
Owen Van Natta is saying goodbye to two more execs, and hoping a pair of design-focused new starters can sort out the site’s sprawl. In a staff memo (via TechCrunch), he confirmed the rumoured exit of International SVP and MD Travis Katz, who first built the business overseas in 2006 and steered its growth to 21 European countries alone, and said product SVP Tom Andrus “has decided to explore other opportunities” after two years.
Incoming… —Katie Geminder, who previously headed user experience design at Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Facebook, comes in as SVP of that portfolio —Mike Macadaan, previously VP of UX at AOL/Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), replaces Andrus as product VP.
From the memo: “Simplifying and unifying our site is fundamental to our success going forward. MySpace should feel like one platform – not 15 sites loosely stitched together. We consider our diverse content offering a strength but too many logos and disorganized verticals makes the site difficult to navigate and creates confusion about our brand identity. Our users don’t know if we’re a social portal, a music site, or an entertainment hub.” Van Natta is restructuring the technology and product group.
Finally, some serious synergy … CBS (NYSE: CBS) parlayed Wednesday’s appearance by Paul McCartney on The Late Show with David Letterman into a surprise mini-concert from the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater—and then into a web-exclusive set. In front of cameras on scaffolds across from the theater where he first played with the Beatles in a legendary show 45 years ago, McCartney played seven songs for a live crowd on Broadway (one lane stayed open).
Two of the songs aired during the show; five, including Back in the USSR and Helter Skelter, are online only at the Late Show site and CBS Interactive’s TV.com. The video can’t be embedded so all the traffic is being funneled to the sites (a plus for CBS but not so much for fans); the pre-roll ad I saw was for Tanqueray gin. Online display ads on CBS.com promoted TV.com and La
The video has a very you-are-there feel; not awesome sound but it works. The entire 22-minute set went online as the show ended on the east coast; Letterman episodes usually have more lag time. One small thing—I may have missed it but I don’t recall Letterman telling people to go to the website for more Sir Paul. Also, I’m not sure yet if the video can be seen (legally) outside the U.S.
Cox Enterprises, the Atlanta-based diversified media company, has sold off three of its newspapers: Waco Tribune-Herald to Robinson Media Company and The Daily Sentinel and The Nickel (Grand Junction, Colo.) to Grand Junction Media, which is owned by Seaton Publishing Co.
This comes as Cox Communications, a subsidiary of parent Cox, is looking to sell off a majority in Travel Channel. The company has hired Goldman Sachs to manage the sale process, and stories say that the sale could reach as much as $600 million to $1 billion. Scripps Networks Interactive (NYSE: SNI) is a front runner in the process (and a great fit considering its other lifestyle cable channels), says FT, with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) being another interested party.
Other such as Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA), NBCU, Viacom (NYSE: VIA) and CBS (NYSE: CBS) could also be interested. Cox plans to retain a stake of 33-35 percent for tax reasons, the story says. The channel has shows such as the popular “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” though its online/mobile presence has been average, at best (Compete.com shows a million uniques a month, though traffic has been on the rise since earlier this year).
Launched in 1987, Cox acquired the channel in 2007, receiving $1.275 billion in cash along with the channel in exchange for its 25 percent stake in Discovery (NSDQ: DISAB) Communications (NSDQ: DISCA), and Reuters churns some numbers and comes to the conclusion that a price tag of anything above $300 million would translate into more than what Cox paid for the channel. Comparisons to the sale of Weather Channel to NBCU, while logical, may be moot as the downturn has changed the appetite for higher valuations, the channel’s revenue resilience notwithstanding.
On the newspaper front, The Tribune-Herald, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1994 for its investigative reporting, dates back to the 19th century. Robinson Media Company is led by local business leader Clifton Robinson and recently sold National Lloyds Insurance Company, which he founded in 1964. More here. Meanwhile, more on the sale of the other two newspapers here.
As it announced last year, Cox is looking to sell its newspapers in Colorado, North Carolina and Texas. It recently sold The Lufkin Daily News and The Daily Sentinel (Nacogdoches, Texas) to Houston-based Southern Newspapers. Citigroup and Dirks, Van Essen & Murray are the bankers helping sell the papers left in its portfolio.
We reported earlier on the resignation of Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com. Steve Forbes, the President and CEO of Forbes, wrote an internal memo (it is being sent to employees tomorrow morning), thanking Spanfeller for his contributions for the last nine years, and mentioning that he will start a new media management company “that will help other traditional media companies make the most of their enormous prospects in digital venues.”
——————- The full memo from Steve Forbes:
To: All Hands
From Steve Forbes
July 16, 2009
Jim Spanfeller, President and CEO of Forbes.com has decided to step down from leading our website after nine years. In the entrepreneurial spirit that Forbes has always championed, Jim will be setting up his own media management company.
Describing his future plans Jim said, “The world of media has changed rapidly in the past 10 years and the velocity of the change promises only to increase going forward. I’ve had a great run at Forbes and have been deeply involved in the breakthroughs and transformations between traditional and digital media. Now I see a huge opportunity to have my own media management business that will help other traditional media companies make the most of their enormous prospects in digital venues, taking all I have learned here in the past decade and applying on a wider horizon.
Forbes.com has truly been a truly wonderful ride and I am deeply in debt to the Forbes family for letting me be a part of it.”
Jim has done a monumental job of bringing Forbes.com to the lead position in business websites, and secured Forbes.com as the must visit site for not only global business leaders but also anyone interested in the finest business reporting and analysis available. At present Forbes.com has 18 million unique visitors a month.
Along the way, Jim has overseen the development and growth of Forbes Digital, which includes Forbes.com, ForbesTraveler.com, Investopedia.com, RealClearPolitics.com, RealClearMarkets.com, Real Clear Sports, and Forbes Business and Finance Blog Network, which together reach 40 million unique visitors a month.
This immense growth on the digital side of the business was spearheaded, pursed, and led by Jim with enormous success. The digital world is still uncharted with few rules, and Jim’s intellect, creativity, and business acumen helped bring us our number one position. For this the Forbes family is very grateful and we wish him all the success in his future plans.
Since Elevation Partners partnered with Forbes three years ago, Jim has worked very closely with them on the growth and development and vision for Forbes.com. Commenting on Jim’s departure, Roger McNamee of Elevation said, “Jim did a fantastic job leading Forbes.com. In an era when competitors feared it, Jim embraced and evangelized the internet, with huge benefits to Forbes and its audiences. We are grateful for his contributions over the past nine years.”
Jim will be staying through a transition period at least through Labor Day.
Please join me and my brothers in wishing Jim all the best in the future, which he deserves.
We’re hearing from a trusted source this evening that Jim Spanfeller, the CEO of Forbes.com, is resigning, and have confirmed it from him as well. No word yet on who, if anyone, would replace him. (The internal memo to the employees, supposed to go out tomorrow morning, is here).
Spanfeller talked to our co-editor Staci D. Kramer tonight about what he says is his decision to leave Forbes after nearly nine years (a record for him when it comes to staying in one place) to launch a new business that would manage startups and turnaround businesses for traditional media companies. His resignation, which he said was not a sudden move or a surprise to the owners of Forbes, will be announced officially Thursday and he plans to stay on at least through Labor Day to aid the transition.
“We’ve integrated the business; it’s not as web-centric anymore,” Spanfeller said. He spoke about joining Forbes when the website had roughly a half-million uniques and leaving with internal Omniture figures showing 20 million uniques—starting with at a multimillion dollar loss compared to what he says now is a multimillion dollar profit. He added: “A large part of the metrics around success have been hampered by the economic downtown and the secular change in media.”
Spanfeller knows that there will be any number of stories flying around, including some we’ve already heard about him being pushed out. “I think there will be lots of different angles on how people try to interpret it,” he said, adding, “at the end of the day, you can’t run your life” based on what other people say or think.
Back story: In the recent weeks, we have heard all kinds of tips about Forbes Media, including one that didn’t pan out about investor Elevation Partners had sold its stake in the firm. Rumors about Spanfeller’s fate at the company have been swirling since last year, with one camp rooting for him to be pushed to the top of the ladder (print + online) while another camp wanted him out. It seems like the latter has won, for now.
Back in May, Roger McNamee, co-founder of Elevation Partners, stepped down from the magazine company’s board, ceding the role to Bret Pearlman, who is based in NYC and reputed to be an aggressive cost-cutter. The company has already been fairly aggressive on reining in costs since the financial meltdown last fall. In addition to completing the merger of its online and print editorial operations in January, which left 19 staffers laid off, it shuttered its auto site and gutted the ForbesTraveler staff. In March, Forbes said it would lay off another 50 employees on top of the 60 jobs cut since the fall.
Spanfeller says the idea of a McNamee-Pearlman switch has been overplayed, that Pearlman has been active with the board since the beginning of Elevation’s investment. He also said the post-meltdown push for cost-cutting was internal as well as from investors. The board has a scheduled meeting in two weeks.
In 2006, Elevation bought a 40 percent stake in the company for a reported $250 million or so, valuing the company at around $700 million. The investment was made with the belief that the online side would outperform the print—the phrase used was they were buying into a website with a magazine attached—and with enough capital, it could become the biggest franchise in business media. What happened after that is a complex game of internal politics and intrigue. And then, Forbes has been under a lot of pressure with the downturn, like others in the sector—especially as its main message of unfettered capitalism has taken more than a dent during this cycle. David Carr described it well in a column about the company last month.
Disclaimer: Spanfeller has been writing a regular column for us for the last two months. His latest one, about the future of professional journalists, was published on our site yesterday.