CANNES — When Mike Perlis decided to accept the invitation to become the first CEO of Forbes Media from outside the Forbes dynasty, many industry insiders wondered why he would take on such a challenge.

“You all were well-mannered and good friends enough to not say it too loudly to me, but I did feel it,” Perlis tells Beet.TV in this video interview. Five years on, Perlis reckons things are going pretty well.

Perlis had already enjoyed senior-level positions in some of the top media houses in the US before he decided to become a venture capitalist. In the 80s and 90s, he had been GQ publisher, Playboy president, TVSM president, Runner’s World and Men’s Health publisher. Then, as the media bubble burst, in 2001, he joined SoftBank Capital as a general partner. However, the challenges of rebooting a media brand called him back after nine years in finance to run the venerable business publisher Forbes.

When Perlis came aboard, the wind in media land was blowing back to charging for digital properties. But, as Perlis told me at the time, despite Forbes’ high-level audience, the forbes.com site was to remain free to achieve scale. The success of the site’s contributor model since seems to attest to the digital rejuvenation of the business under Perlis.

“Our digital business is much, much bigger than our traditional business,” he tells Beet.TV. “We are one of the few traditional iconic print brands to travel over the land to digital.”

“(I aimed) to show an outsider with an empathy and affinity for the mission, for the product and history and Forbes could run the company…. and transform it in to a digital business and make it a global company with tech at its centre.”

Beside carrying Forbes’ own staff editorial, forbes.com’s BrandVoice makes money by running sponsored posts and the site takes contributions from independent field experts.

That story attracted interest from a new Hong Kong investment group that last year purchased a majority stake in Forbes Media. “My team is in tact, the mission is in place and is now really well funded,” says, gleefully.

So what does the publishing landscape look like today, and how will it change in the next decade?

“The current maelstrom around the mix of passion and science is going to sort itself out,” Perlis says.

“It feels so much today like you either need to get on the technology path or down the creativity and content path. I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive, they’re mutually inclusive.”

It seems like at the confluence of creativity and technology is where Forbes has managed to find the ingredients to pursue its digital business growth.

Not that the media business looks like slowing down any. According to Perlis: “Every day, it feels like there’s a freight train coming at you.” It’s a journey he looks like jumping aboard for.

 

Perlis was interviewed for Beet.TV by David J. Moore, chairman of Xaxis and president of WPP Digital.  The taping took place in Cannes.  This is part of Beet.TV series title the Media Revolutionaries.  The series is sponsored by Xaxis and Microsoft. 

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