In 2019, as Fortune looks to diversify its revenue, it will cast its lines for many different kinds of fish.
Armed with new funds promised by Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon, who recently acquired Fortune from Meredith for $150 million, the business publication will be developing several paid products at both consumer and professional price points, Fortune CEO and president Alan Murray said.
While the exact size of the investment has not been made public, Murray said the funds will enable the publisher to bolster its newsroom staff and invest in new technology and markets. The funds will also allow Fortune to bolster business divisions such as the Fortune Knowledge Group, a creative services division that had been folded into Time Inc.’s branded content studio, The Foundry. Fortune also plans to expand its lucrative events business, which it has begun to treat more like a memberships business, with customers paying big fees for a mixture of editorial content, marketing services, access to events and networking services.
Fortune’s plans to grow consumer revenue include getting audiences to pay at smaller price points, too. Though he declined to offer many specifics, Murray said that Fortune aims to launch multiple paid offerings, at both consumer and professional price points, within the next year. Fortune has experimented with paywalls in the past, but it was unable to investigate them seriously over the past several years.
“I think Fortune has an opportunity to move in that direction,” Murray said, saying he would love to get a paywall ready for the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. “We had asked for a paywall two years ago.”
Some of these plans, such as moves into new markets in Asia, are more recent ideas. Others, such as a paywall, have been on management’s wish list for years. All of them are meant to further modernize an 88-year-old brand that still draws substantial revenue from its print product.
“Over the past two years, we have not been able to make any investments that would not pay off in the same quarter you made them,” Murray said. “We now have an owner who was very explicit that he’s taking a long-term view.”
Today, events represent Fortune’s fastest-growing, most profitable source of revenue, accounting for more than 40 percent of revenue last year, Murray said. Combined, digital and events represent more than 60 percent of Fortune’s revenues, which totaled nearly $100 million in 2018, according to a report in The New York Times.
Fortune plans to grow that business with two new events in 2019, including a Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan, China.
The publisher also said its events membership services team needs to grow. The team, which operates membership programs for multiple Fortune tentpole events, including the Fortune CEO Initiative and the Most Powerful Women Summit, requires people with an unusual combination of skills, which includes a combination of editorial, marketing services and sales account-style hand-holding.
For example, members of Fortune’s CEO Initiative, who pay $15,000 per year, get free access to events, early access to a newsletter personally written by Murray, as well as regular conference calls for fellow members. But each participating executive also gets a contact at Fortune who is available to connect members with like-minded executives and help them put together presentations shared with other members. The membership programs have attracted “several hundred” members, a Fortune spokesperson said. That same spokesperson declined to comment on how many people Fortune planned to hire to support the growing division.
“Our live events business began as a conference business but it’s evolving into membership communities,” Murray said. “We’re no longer thinking of it as events. We’re thinking of it as communities, and how we can serve their needs.”
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