Forbes Becomes Tech Player, Licenses IP -- Both Kinds

If you would have asked me back when I started out covering this business in the paleolithic era of analogue media, which publisher would be the most likely to adapt to the current world of real-time digital media, one of the last names that would have come to my mind would have been Forbes. But Forbes has not only become the poster child for publishing in an always-on media world, it’s evolving into a platform for others to do it too. It’s doing it by focusing on its IP, and I mean that in both senses of the acronym: Internet protocol and intellectual property, but mostly on the latter kind.

I started to get a sense of this when I saw Forbes Media chief Mike Perlis speak at a recent NASDAQ event, during which he said Forbes now makes more money from things other than its printed magazines, including things like licensing and technology. But it wasn’t until l sat down with him in the Old World offices that I really got the sense of the transition.

We reminisced about the old days that are still evoked by the rich, dark, burled wood of the Forbes offices, walls dotted with original artwork and framed photographs of meetings with heads of state and captains of industry. We talked about the way Forbes leveraged its old brand equity to get a seat at Madison Avenue’s table, whether it was parties for young media planners aboard its fabled Highlander yacht, its fleet of hot air balloons, or wining and dining media buyers and advertisers over bottles of Chateau Lafite.

Perlis, who joined Forbes in 2010 after a stints as a venture capitalist and a publisher at other famed magazines (Playboy), even handed me an example of a silver chalice Forbes would give to its highest rollers who dined on its fine wines. Those days are over, and the only yacht Perlis sails these days is is personal one, Morgan, which is a heck of a lot smaller than the Highlander, but is named after Perlis’ daughter.

Instead of leveraging the lavish roots that helped make the Forbes brand, Perlis has focused his energies on leveraging the Forbes brand. Among the recent licensing deals he’s cut was one that put the Forbes name on a financial center in the Philippines.

Something else Forbes has begun licensing are its proprietary, real-time advertising and media technologies. Perlis wouldn’t say exactly which company has licensed it, but he said he recently cut a deal licensing its BrandVoice native advertising infrastructure to another third party. And today, the company announced it is licensing the technology that powers Forbes.com to another publisher, ALM, which publishes Law.com, and publications such as The American Lawyer.

“Over the last three years, Forbes has evolved as both a publisher of content and as developer of new technology,” Perlis said in the statement announcing the deal this morning. It will be interesting to see what it’s like three years from now.
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