How Lewis DVorkin's True/Slant transformed Forbes into a publishing machine
Forbes Media chief product officer Lewis DVorkin, speaking at PandoMonthly this evening, told the story of how Forbes' contributor platform came to exist -- so if you've ever wondered who to blame -- or thank -- for the copy machine Forbes has become, well, now you know.
DVorkin founded a startup called True/Slant in 2009 to allow so-called experts to publish on the Web and build their own brand. After attracting over 300 contributors, some of whom were paid $500 or more per month, DVorkin sought to raise new funding and, along the way, began the process of changing Forbes from a fuddy-duddy media property into a new, contributor-and Web-enabled property.
“We had a 15, 20-page deck to raise some more money, and there was a diagram at the top [of a page] that said ‘the new newsroom,'" DVorkin said. “Wherever I went, people ripped that page out, folded it up, and put it in their jacket pocket."
Which lead to a thought: What if the True/Slant model could be applied to a big brand? What if a media property could rely on un-or low-paid contributors* and embrace the Web? "Maybe that's our destiny here," DVorkin said.
And it was. True/Slant was acquired by Forbes not long after DVorkin sought to raise another round of funding, and was then incorporated, at least in spirit, into Forbes. This contributor platform, which allows those previously mentioned "experts" to publish to the Forbes website, now allows 1,300 non-staff writers to post for Forbes.com, DVorkin said.
When asked about the editorial oversight for those contributors versus Forbes' staff reporters, DVorkin said that Forbes edits "talent, not copy" and that Forbes and its editors have to make some big decisions, which essentially boils down to "Am I going to give this guy a publish button?"
DVorkin argued that bringing the philosophy behind True/Slant and applying it to Forbes not only boosts traffic -- though he said that Forbes now has 26 million "users," compared to just 9.5 million three years ago -- but also used True/Slant's base and Forbes' legacy to build a veritable publishing machine.
*True/Slant was, at the time of acquisition and according to DVorkin, paying from $250 to $500 per month. Forbes contributors earn much more than that, with DVorkin writing in a blog post that some earn six figures each year, with many earning $10,000. There are still unpaid contributors, however.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]