Identification: Business and financial magazine
Date: Founded in September, 1917
Significance: Forbes is one of the most influential business and financial magazines in the United States, known for its many lists, including its list of the world’s richest people.
In large measure, the history of Forbes is the history of the magazine’s founder, B. C. Forbes, and his famous family. A Scottish immigrant and prodigious business writer, Forbes attracted the attention of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst. Hearst thought that the very popular columnist would boost his newspaper sales, so he syndicated the writer’s column in 1911 and paid Forbes a premium salary, equivalent to $185,000 in 1990 dollars.
In 1917, using his salary as a stake, Forbes started Forbes, a magazine designed to profile the “doers and doings” of American capitalism, giving prominent business leaders a human face. From its start, Forbes was a stalwart champion of capitalism. The magazine had virtually no rivals until the late 1920’s, when BusinessWeek entered the scene. BusinessWeek, however, had a starkly different orientation from that of Forbes, which generally portrayed businessmen as heroes. Forbes thought it necessary to expand, and the magazine shifted from investment to industry stories.
After World War II, Forbes’s eldest son, Malcolm S. Forbes, figured prominently in the management of the company. The younger Forbes was an innovator, and the company diversified. He began the Forbes Investor Advisory Institute, which was quite profitable. The magazine’s circulation grew steadily, reaching 265,000 by 1957, with about $1 million in advertising. In 1964, the younger Forbes took the reins of the company after convincing family members to sell him their stakes in the company. He immediately began an aggressive advertisement campaign, promoting the magazine as “Forbes: Capitalist Tool.” Circulation skyrocketed to 500,000 by the magazine’s fiftieth anniversary in 1967. By 1976, the magazine could claim close to $20 million in advertising-generated revenues alone.
During the late 1970’s, business publishing expanded, and Forbes’s competition grew fiercer. In 1979, Inc. magazine, targeted toward small-business owners, reached the stands. In 1978, Forbes’s great rival, Fortune magazine, known for its Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest corporations, went from a monthly to a bimonthly. The Fortune 500 list was the center of industry speculation and gossip; Forbes envied the list’s popularity. In 1982, he countered (despite numerous threats of lawsuits) with a compilation of the richest Americans, the Forbes 400. The “rich list” was enormously successful, although, critics claimed, of doubtful accuracy.
With the death of Malcolm S. Forbes in 1990, his son Steve Forbes (Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Jr.) became editor-in-chief and created international editions of the magazine to keep abreast of the rapidly globalized marketplace. A Web site begun in 1996 bloomed into several other profitable Internet ventures thanks to Forbes’s ever-novel marketing schemes. In 2006, the Forbes family sold a 40 percent stake in the company to Elevation Partners, which is believed to have paid between $250 million and $300 million. An Elevation manager is alleged to have quipped that his company was buying into a Web site with a magazine attached. Forbes magazine reached 900,000 subscribers in North America with an average age of forty-three and an average annual income of more than $88,000.

Further Reading
Jones, Arthur, and Malcolm Forbes. Peripatetic Millionaire. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
Winans, Christopher. Malcolm Forbes: The Man Who Had Everything. London: Peter Owen, 1991.
See also: Barron’s; Warren Buffett; The Economist; Magazine industry; Muckraking journalism; Reader’s Digest; The Wall Street Journal.

Reader’s Digest

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Magazine industry


The Economist

Warren Buffett


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