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Forbes on the troubled newspaper industry

May 25, 2009 13:20 IST
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The newspaper industry in the West may be reeling under the onslaught of the web but Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief, Forbes, and grandson of the founder of the magazine, believes there is a market for value-added content that people will pay for. The 61-year-old Forbes, who is in India to launch the Indian edition of the magazine, a mix of foreign and local content with an initial print run of 75,000 copies, also tells Shobhana Subramanian that the Obama administration's spending programme is unlikely to revive the US economy. Edited Excerpts:

How do you read the market for print journalism in the West? Newspapers and magazines seem to be in all sorts of trouble...

Certainly in the US the newspaper industry is under a lot of pressure. For one, the rise of the web is destroying their advertising model and, at the same time, newspaper readership is declining. While magazines have been hit by the advertising downturn, there is what you may call a generic readership for magazines in the US, so the pressure is not as acute as it is for newspapers.

Newspapers need to be more closely integrated with their websites and focus more on local content that people cannot easily find elsewhere. Otherwise people just go to their hand-helds for the latest news. We have been integrating with the web, where we have almost 20 million peak visitors a month; the readership of Forbes magazine has never been higher, there is an audience for value-added information. We've had to tighten our belts like everyone else, we're investing for the future – we've just launched Forbes Women Online.

Do your readers pay for online content?

On the web, for the most part, people are going to want the information for free. Some may charge for it, like The Wall Street Journal. On our site, there are specific areas we charge for, but it's generally free. So we have to find other streams of revenue.

You have a licensing agreement with Network18. Are you open to an equity tie-up at a later stage?

We would have been in India sooner had the government eased the regulations. We'll see how things evolve. We expect to deepen our relationship with Network18. We've made sure in our agreement that nothing was precluded, short term and long term.

How would you compare the Chinese and Indian markets?

We think the countries are very different. India is a democracy and has more people speaking the English language than anywhere on the face of the earth and, with the liberalisation and reforms, we think our prospects are excellent. Also, India has a tradition of contract law that we think provides a base of stability that other countries are going to have to work to achieve. So India comes in with some very real advantages.

You have been criticising the attacks on tax havens...

Well, we ran a piece online defending countries with low taxes and we believe in simplifying tax codes and reducing tax burdens - we hope the Indian government will do that in the future. I have been advocating a flat tax rate and 25 countries have adopted it, but not the US, yet.

You haven't really appreciated President Obama's efforts to revive the US economy...

We were critical about George Bush for the very many economic mistakes he made. I wish the Obama administration had been quicker to undo some of these. One regulation relates to the valuation of capital of banks and, while the Obama administration has modified it, I wish they'd done it in a more sweeping way. The Obama programme on government spending...I don't think (it) is going to turn around the US economy any more than Japan's spending programme has turned that economy around. I hope President Obama will be very swift in changing his economic officials the way his hero Abraham Lincoln was swift in changing military generals who did not perform.

You took part in the US election primaries in 1996 and 2000 as a Republican candidate. Will you consider doing that again?

Now I describe my role as that of an agitator, trying to stir the pot as we say, or to change things. As a candidate – no, those days are over.

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