Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Yet More Cost-Cutting Coming to Forbes?

forbes-magMy former co-workers at Forbes are convinced that another round of cuts–it would be the third since November–is coming to the publisher. This won’t assuage their fears: High-profile investor Roger McNamee of Elevation Partners is stepping down from the Forbes board and giving his seat to a member of his company’s “cost-cutting team.”

McNamee, who spearheaded Elevation’s purchase of 40 percent of Forbes Media in 2006, tells the New York Post’s Keith Kelly that his company’s original thesis–that Forbes’s fast-growing Web site would offset its declining magazine business–“has proved to be wrong for reasons that are no fault of Forbes.” More from McNamee:

“The deterioration in the advertising market late last year caused Forbes and Elevation to agree that we could no longer count on to offset declines in print. We agreed to a strategy shift from investment in the Web to aggressive cost cutting.”

As part of that shift, McNamee will be replaced by Elevation’s Bret Pearlman, who has a reputation as an aggressive cost-cutter.

Said McNamee of Pearlman’s appointment: “Elevation’s cost-cutting team happens to be in New York, so swapping Bret in and me out was an obvious play. I remain engaged in strategy and Web technology at Forbes.

I asked Forbes for comment this morning and got back this statement:

Several Elevation partners have rotated on the Forbes Media board. Bret Pearlman, while not formally a member of the board previously, has been involved from day one.  Roger is still very much engaged with the company, particularly web strategy and technology. Cutting costs, while painful, has been necessary at Forbes and virtually every other media company in response to the unprecedented economic downturn. We and Elevation believe that Forbes is well placed to ride out the present market and emerge in a very strong position when the recovery comes.

It’s possible that Forbes’s woes exist in a vacuum, or at least in a vacuum specific to the business magazine sector, which has already seen one title–Condé Nast’s Portfolio–shutter this year. But I don’t think so.

Which means we’ll see even more pressure at Time Warner (TWX) to cut costs at publisher Time Inc. People familiar with Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes’s thinking tell me he would like to spin off the publishing unit in the next year once he’s finished cleaving AOL from the company. If that’s the case, he’ll want to clean up the magazine business as much as possible before putting it on the market.