Forbes Magazine publisher seeks buyer

Forbes is known for its annual ranking of billionaires, most powerful women and top-earning CEOs

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Forbes Media, the family-owned group known for its business magazine which chronicles great wealth, said Friday it is up for sale.

Forbes Media chief executive Mike Perlis disclosed that the company, family-controlled since its founding in 1917, had hired bankers to “test the waters regarding a sale” after being approached by potential suitors.

A sale would involve the weekly Forbes Magazine, as well as the company’s digital properties and conference business.

Forbes is also known for its annual ranking of billionaires, and other lists, such as most powerful women, and top-earning CEOs.

Forbes literature touts the weekly magazine as the country’s “leading business magazine” with a circulation of more than 900,000. It also has international editions in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Talk of a sale of Forbes comes amid a broader shakeout in the industry that has led to the demise of the print edition of Newsweek and sale of Businessweek in recent years.

But Forbes differs from those publications, which were part of media conglomerates, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at the research firm Altimeter Group.

“It’s a bit stunning when a brand as old as Forbes that has been family-held as long as Forbes has opens itself up to a new ownership structure,” Lieb said. “It’s a very, very venerable brand.”

Lieb said Forbes stood out from other prominent legacy-print outlets in its embrace of “native advertising,” a growing premium digital advertising product where companies provide sponsored content that has the look and feel of the host publication.

“Forbes has been the business brand that has been perhaps most successful in not only pioneering native advertising, but also profiting from native advertising,” Lieb said.

Although still family-controlled, Forbes in 2006 sold a minority stake in the company to Elevation Partners, an entity whose investors include rock singer Bono. The terms were not disclosed.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Forbes is due to repay $264 million to Elevation over the next several years. Forbes hopes the sale will yield $400 million to $500 million, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Perlis said Forbes had done well in a shifting media landscape, growing its digital revenues over 25 percent by the end of the year. The company expects 2013 to be its best year financially in six years.

Forbes hired Deutsche Bank to represent it after receiving a number of informal inquiries from possible suitors in recent months, Perlis said.

“I’m proud to say that we’ve accomplished what no other traditional media company appears to have done: established a huge digital audience by efficiently creating quality content at scale, and we’re innovating around new business models to maximize that relationship,” Perlis said in a memo to employees.

Forbes touts itself for its unparalleled access to the rich and powerful, boasting on its website of an “unbroken string of agenda-setting cover stories” with Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos and other luminaries.

“What distinguishes Forbes from other media brands is our exceptional access to the world’s most powerful people-the game changers and disruptors who are advancing industries across the globe,” Forbes said on its website.

The editor of the flagship magazine is Steve Forbes, 66, a two-time presidential candidate known for promoting a “flat” income tax.

The magazine rose to prominence under Steve Forbes’s father Malcolm Forbes, an unabashed promoter of free markets, with a lavish lifestyle, who had his personal jet named “Capitalist Tool.”

Malcolm Forbes, who died in 1990, was known for collecting motorcycles, Faberge eggs and hot air balloons, and owned a chateau in Normandy.

The publication was launched in 1917 by Malcolm Forbes’s father, Scottish immigrant B.C. Forbes.

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