- Forbes' new 'Journalist Entrepreneurs' program is a three-pronged initiative.
- Forbes will hire 20 to 30 staff writers, who will launch subject-specific newsletters. They will split subscription revenue with Forbes 50-50, but won't own the IP.
- The strategy reflects the growing influence of newsletter writers in a media ecosystem increasingly focused on subscription revenue.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Your email inbox is quickly becoming some of the most sought-after real estate in the digital world — and Forbes wants in.
The publication recently announced the debut of its Journalist Entrepreneurs program, a three-pronged initiative that the publication hopes will drive digital subscriptions, provide a fresh revenue stream, and bring new readers to its site.
As a key part of the program, the publication is hiring 20 to 30 new staff writers, each of whom will write a newsletter that is promoted across the Forbes website and social channels, in addition to writing regular articles.
The strategy reflects the growing influence of newsletter writers in a media ecosystem that is increasingly focused on driving subscription revenue. Platforms like Substack and Ghost have underscored the value that a single journalist can generate, with some Substack newsletter writers making hundreds of thousands of dollars working alone.
Forbes' chief content officer, Randall Lane, said that although the publication has been in the newsletter space for several decades, the recent newsletter renaissance has spurred renewed interest in the medium.
"We saw that the market has evolved in terms of people's willingness to pay for journalism and journalism from individual journalists," Lane said.
Lane spoke with Insider about the details of the new program, including a detailed breakdown of the pricing and payment systems.
Read more: Star writers are making 6 figures on Substack, but most need different tactics. Here are 4 tips from successful creators who started from scratch.
The Journalist Entrepreneurs umbrella
The Journalist Entrepreneurs initiative is composed of three distinct parts.
First, Forbes is taking franchises like Midas List and SportsMoney, which cover venture capital and the business of sports, respectively, and creating newsletters around them, bulking up their staff and providing the franchises with expanded resources.
Second, in the first half of 2021, Forbes will offer the opportunity to members of its contributor network to publish newsletters through the Forbes content management system, Bertie, if they meet three conditions. Potential contributors must be approved for the role by their editors; they must be "high-quality" writers; and they must have a clearly defined audience, Lane said. These contributors will also split the subscription revenue their newsletters generate 50-50 with the publication.
Third, the publication will be hiring 20 to 30 journalists as staff writers. These "Journalist Entrepreneurs" will write newsletters about subjects they have expertise in, as well as articles for the Forbes website, which makes them eligible to receive pay incentives based on the views and engagement that their articles generate. The writers will split the subscription revenue generated by their newsletters 50-50 with Forbes.
Despite their name, the Journalist Entrepreneurs will not own the intellectual property of their newsletters, a representative of the publication confirmed, since they are considered staff writers. Forbes contributors, however, will own the IP of their newsletters. If a Journalist Entrepreneur leaves the program and wants to keep the email addresses they collected, an arrangement would be made in which the writer would "fairly" compensate Forbes to keep the list, a rep said.
According to Lane, the Journalist Entrepreneurs concept stemmed from a growing awareness that journalists can be part of the creator economy. By building personal brands based on credible reporting and writing, journalists can turn themselves into one-person businesses, a reality that Forbes' new program hopes to complement.
"You have a lot of journalists who want to turn themselves into a brand and monetize their journalism," Lane said. "We allow them to do that, but we also give them the full support of writing for Forbes, which is a great way to market the newsletter."
Forbes is also experimenting with ways to reward contributors for generating digital subscriptions, something they can track through analytics, though that is not specific to the Journalist Entrepreneur program.
Read more: The former Andreessen Horowitz investor who coined the phrase 'passion economy' explains how it's easier than ever to turn your expertise into a business venture.
The subscription price for Journalist Entrepreneur newsletters will vary. Forbes has hired a business development staffer who will be responsible for using analytics to determine the appropriate price for newsletters on a case-by-case basis, in collaboration with the newsletter writer.
Some of the newsletters will not be "standard market price," Lane said. Newsletters that offer granular details about valuable information, such as Midas Touch, which covers venture capital, will be more expensive. He declined to name a specific price point.
The platform also plans to experiment with different pay structures for their newsletters: some might be free; some might start free and offer a paid version; some will only be paid.
"We're experimenting with everything," Lane said. "The key concept here is that this is not a one-size-fits-all system."
Subscriptions to these newsletters will not be included in a Forbes digital subscription, which costs $6.99 per month or $74.99 per year. Instead, Forbes digital subscribers will have to pay to subscribe to its Journalist Entrepreneurs' newsletters, a departure from industry standard practice.
On most news publications, when a reader pays for a digital subscription, they receive free access to all the newsletters that publication offers. Most publishers hope digital subscribers sign up for these newsletters because they are habit forming; newsletters engage the reader in a consistent ritual of reading, which reduces their likelihood to unsubscribe. In this way, many publishers consider their newsletters to be a "retention play": they provide more value to a digital subscription, which incentivizes subscribers to keep paying month after month.
Forbes, however, appears to be treating its Journalist Entrepreneur program as an audience-acquisition and revenue-generation play. Rather than use a suite of newsletters to keep their digital subscribers coming back, Forbes hopes that these new Journalist Entrepreneurs will convert their fans into Forbes readers, generating money through advertising and potentially convincing the new readers to subscribe to the publication. At the same time, Forbes makes money off of every new subscriber these newsletters generate, at little additional cost.
Why journalists might join
Journalists will likely see two main appeals in Forbes' program. First, Forbes will promote its Journalist Entrepreneurs' newsletters across its site, in the author's articles as well as in other relevant pieces. This kind of exposure can be valuable for newsletter writers, because growing a newsletter audience is uniquely challenging. Newsletters are inherently siloed, in that they shoot from one inbox to another, which makes it difficult to "discover" a newsletter.
The only way to grow your newsletter audience — outside of having your readers share it — is to promote your newsletter on other channels. Most newsletter writers use their social media for this purpose, but that limits reach. By displaying a newsletter across its site and social-media channels, Forbes increases its visibility, which could help it grow quickly.
Because Journalist Entrepreneurs also keep half of the revenue these newsletters generate, they have a strong financial incentive as well.
"They can make as much as they can help generate," Lane said. "That's the true nature of entrepreneurship."
Forbes is also lowering the barrier to entrepreneurialism for its Journalist Entrepreneurs by employing them, which means they get salary, health benefits, legal counsel, and a number of other advantages. This safety net could remove many of the impediments to entrepreneurship that keep journalists from striking out on their own. But they also won't own the IP.
"We do think the market is there for journalists who want to be entrepreneurial, but we're able to surround them with the services and muscle that might not be their core strength," Lane said.
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