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It is almost two-and-a-half years since business news and financial information site Forbes.com began its transformation from news site to publishing platform.

A team of designers and technologists were tasked with rethinking the online experience and rebuilding the site from the ground up.

The Forbes.com team started gathering an army of 'contributors': freelance journalists, academics and experts who write for the title, many of them getting paid a fee in relation to the amount of traffic they drive to the site. There are now 1,000 contributors.

Forbes.com is now publishing around 500 pieces of content a day, often with 25 posts on the same subject. A banner at the top of the site tells readers how many new posts have been published in the past hour.

The shift to a different kind of publishing platform and a new model of online journalism has led to a dramatic increase in site traffic, Lewis D'Vorkin, chief product officer, told Journalism.co.uk during a recent visit to London.

He referred to figures from Omniture, reporting that visitor numbers have more than doubled in a little over two years: from 15 million unique users a month to 37.5 million.

Journalism.co.uk spoke to D'Vorkin to find out about the Forbes model for digital journalism, why a virtual newsroom proved vital when the Forbes office was closed during Hurricane Sandy, and how Forbes.com has ambitions to attract more UK contributors and "more European-centric content".

A platform with 1,000 contributors

The dramatic rise in traffic to Forbes.com is "due to the kind of journalistic platform we have built", D'Vorkin explained, one where 1,000 journalists, experts, academics and authors post content.

"We've been at this now for two years and four months," he said, with Forbes.com now publishing "400 or 500 pieces of content a day".

"That kind of content is being shared across the social web and that sharing and the exploration of that content is driving that audience growth, and it's very dramatic. It's very exciting to be part of that and it shows no signs of stopping," he added.

Unlike the Huffington Post's model, Forbes pays contributors, with 30 to 35 per per cent of the total story budget spent on contributors, with payment calculated based on he number of views a story gets.

Our contributor model gives people a voice, it gives experts a voice, and it gives them a chance to make moneyLewis D'Vorkin
"Our contributor model gives people a voice, it gives experts a voice, and it gives them a chance to make money."

Not all of the contributors are paid, D'Vorkin explained, as some choose not sign to commit to the terms which require a set number of articles a month. "Many, many hundreds of contributors are paid," he explained.

"Our contributor model was meant to be a portion of a good freelance income," he said, so that if a contributor dedicated time and energy to the role, they "could make a third of their freelance income from Forbes.com".

"We have some contributors who actually generate a million unique visitors a month to their individual posts. That's a lot. If you were to generate a million unique visitors a month, every month for a year, you would make a six figure income. That's a job. If you scale down from that, people who do 500,000 unique visitors are doing well."

Forbes.com is also reaching out to Europe and the UK. "We want to expand our contributor base in Europe," D'Vorkin said, reporting that the site has 5 million unique visits from Europe a month, with 2 million from the UK.

We have a small contributor base in the UK and we are going to be working to expand that and produce more European-centric content using the same model we use in AmericaLewis D'Vorkin
"We have a small contributor base in the UK and we are going to be working to expand that and produce more European-centric content using the same model we use in America."

And it is not just freelancers and experts being paid to post content. Brands are paying to post content directly to the site without being filtered by an editor.

BrandVoice enables marketers for brands to publish content straight to Forbes.com. There is also a similar service for the print edition of Forbes.

"We have 12 or 13 marketers, including Microsoft, Dell and Oracle, which are all publishing content on Forbes, and they are drawing an audience as well to their content," D'Vorkin said.

"They are distributing that content on Forbes.com in a transparent way: it's always clearly labelled, clearly identified as marketer content," he added.

D'Vorkin said that the "very novel programme" presents a challenging shift in the mindset of the newsroom. "It's difficult for some journalists to understand," he admitted.

"But its important that the media understand that's what marketers want, and that we are here to provide solutions not obstacles. So we need to figure out ways to be partners."

"Our audience seems to like it", D'Vorkin said, explaining that posts often prove to be among the most popular.

Social traffic


"Our goal was to put our authoritative journalism at the centre of a social media experience," D'Vorkin wrote in a blog post published in September when explaining the shift from news site to publishing platform.

And social media is now driving a fifth to a quarter of Forbes.com's traffic, D'Vorkin said.

Click on the 'real-time' page and you see the number of shares, frequently displayed to be more than 50,000 in any 24-hour period.

Social traffic accounts for "20 to 25 per cent of traffic on a regular basis" D'Vorkin said, adding that search drives around 30 per cent of traffic, "sometimes a little more".

Other traffic sources include the 10,000 sites that link to Forbes.com content every month as it "gets a lot of inbound external linking".

Out of the social media traffic drivers "Facebook is more important than Twitter", and Forbes.com gets "a very strong audience from Reddit and we also do very well with StumbleUpon", D'Vorkin revealed.

In addition to posts being automatically tweeted out and contributors also paying attention to social to maximise traffic and therefore income, Forbes.com uses social media marketing tool SocialFlow.

"When a particular conversation about something heats up on social media, SocialFlow will automatically tweet related content to that conversation," D'Vorkin explained.

Hurricane Sandy

Another example of where technology has provided a solution for the newsroom is the use of Campfire, a group chat tool, which proved its value during Hurricane Sandy when Forbes "didn't miss a beat".

"Our building was closed for a week," D'Vorkin explained.

"But we have a real-time newsroom because everyone has access to Campfire. There are assignments that are done on Campfire, there is cross-talk between staff members, contributors are on Campfire; so no matter that we were not in the building, everyone was on Campfire from wherever they were: their home, their flooded home, their cell phone, iPad, desktop."

Everybody in the newsroom knows what everybody else is doing, there are no secretsLewis D'Vorkin
D'Vorkin has Campfire on his tablet and phone and can "go into our newsroom and see what is going on in the newsroom" from where ever he is.

"Our traffic was as strong during the week of the hurricane as it was during the previous week. And it wasn't because we had hurricane coverage, it was because we were able to do what we normally do everyday.

"Most newsrooms don't operate in that community setting. Everybody in the newsroom knows what everybody else is doing, there are no secrets."

Going mobile


Forbes.com now gets 28 per cent of its traffic from mobile. And to respond to changing behaviours, Forbes is planning "a new kind of magazine tablet app" that will launch for iPad in December.

Forbes is keeping the plans under wraps, but D'Vorkin did say they are working with a partner which is "providing a platform that very nicely layers social elements on top of a PDF page".

"It's not building a new page every time the magazine comes out but it's adding social elements to the PDF to bring it alive: video, graphics, sharing, cutting and pasting, and directly linking to our website in real-time.

"So if there is a story in PDF form about XYZ company and there's something new that happened, we can very easily go in and add a link to that article on the web page.

"I can actually see myself navigating Forbes.com from this magazine app as a fun way to do it," he said.

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