It has been a rough few years for high profile contributor networks and various groups of unpaid, SEO-friendly guest blogging locations. A number of contributor networks have shut down, some sites entirely, some just their casual contributors. HuffPost is one of the major announcements of the year. Forbes, in case you’re scared based on the title of this post, has taken a different approach.
Announced in February of this year, Forbes has made a major change to their contributor program. In the past, if you were publishing on Forbes, you fell into one of three categories. You were either a journalist working for Forbes, a sponsored contributor, or part of the contributor network. Sponsored contributors paid for their positions, much like paid ads. Journalists, of course, are employees and are paid a regular salary or commissions on their posts, depending on the agreement they have with the company. Members of the contributor network were mostly unpaid.
The major change that Forbes has announced is that, starting immediately as of last February, they are paying every one of the members of their contributor network – around 1,500 people at last count – a minimum stipend of $250 per month.
This is a new minimum baseline change and serves as an incentive to get contributors to view Forbes as something more than just a prestigious link and name credit under their belt.
It’s worth noting that some of the Forbes contributors were paid, and their payment was a similar amount. According to Randall Lane, the new Chief Content Officer at Forbes, around 40% of their contributors were paid before this change. Those who were paid were generally paid based on unique repeat visitors their posts attracted, with a $250 bonus each month for writing an unspecified number of posts per month. Essentially, if you wrote enough and were successful enough, you would earn $250 + some nebulous amount based on traffic numbers the contributor themselves never really sees.
The Sky’s The Limit
Under the previous system, and presumably under the new system, there’s no real limit to the amount that one writer can earn on the site. Again according to Mr. Lane, a handful of contributors – around 100 or so – were earning quite a bit. His quote, from this Wall Street Journal post, was that they were making “well into five figures”. I don’t know about you, but making $10,000 or more from blogging with Forbes sounds like a pretty decent deal, so long as it’s not your day job. Lane goes on to say that their five top contributors were making more than $200,000, though these folks are obviously outliers.
As a new contributor to Forbes, any new writer will be required to meet certain minimum qualifications and contributor requirements. In order to qualify to make that minimum $250 each month, you’ll be expected to write at least one post each month, and generally closer to one a week. You’re usually presumed to stay within a narrow lane of expertise based on your channel and the content that got you brought into the site itself. Forbes isn’t aimed at being a generalist contribution site for bloggers the way something like business.com works.
If you write more than the minimum, and meet a higher standard for regular contributions, you’re also able to reach a $500 per month guaranteed tier as well. Mr. Lane explains it like a book advance; you get the $500 and, if you aren’t able to meet the standards that it requires for a second month in a row or what have you, you get dropped back down the next month. You’re not fired right off, and you’re not required to pay back the difference or anything, but it does require you to put in the work to keep the higher level of performance and pay.
So, conceptually, a high profile expert writing daily posts for Forbes is going to be able to make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. More realistically, you’re probably looking at sticking around that $250 monthly baseline with a few bonuses here and there when your posts perform exceptionally well.
There’s more to writing for Forbes than just the pay. In fact, I would argue that contributing to Forbes is important in a dozen ways other than the money. I would write for them for free, with all the other fringe benefits a contributor gets.
One such benefit mentioned by Mr. Lane here is exposure. Contributors, moving forward, are given more prominent placement in their posts, so users are more aware of who is writing the content they’re reading. This adds to the prestige and name/face recognition that is the primary benefit to so many high profile guest blogging locations, except it’s not the only way you’re paid at Forbes.
Top contributors, in addition to making plenty of money, are given access to additional fringe benefits. The best of the best are even connected to David Granger, former Esquire editor in chief and all-around extremely important and well-connected man. If you’ve ever wondered how someone can write a blog post that transforms into a book deal, well, this guy is one of the driving factors.
On top of all of that, you have the general prestige that comes with writing for Forbes. You can put “Forbes contributor” in your pitch to pretty much any other publication and immediately get the attention of the editor or decision maker. People who read Forbes will see your name and face attached to content elsewhere and will be that much more likely to give it a read, a share, or a response.
Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention
Forbes started life as a print magazine over 100 years ago. How many other publications out there can you think of that have lasted that long? I can think of a few, but they’re all newspapers, and all of them are suffering from the changes brought about by the Internet.
One problem every modern publication has to face is the prevalence of free content available online. Newspaper circulation is down as more and more people get their news from social media or blogs they follow. Magazines have become niche publications rather than weekly or monthly or even quarterly events. Budgets have fallen and reporting has suffered as companies have to struggle with ads and clickbait to get enough attention to support themselves. Publications buy each other and merge just to have enough of a reader base to stay afloat.
Forbes has survived and by all reports is thriving in this new era of digital publication. In their 100th year, their platform has a larger audience than ever before, with 60 million visitors to Forbes.com last December alone. Their print issues are still large, larger even than the best print issues of Fortune, Inc, and BusinessWeek all combined. They’re obviously doing something right, and that something is embracing change.
This is why, while other publications are dialing back, shutting down, or closing their public contributor programs the way HuffPost did, Forbes is expanding. They’re willing to invest some serious cash in their contributors.
With Great Budget Comes Great Responsibility
There’s one giant asterisk next to the $250 minimum payment for contributors that has gone somewhat overlooked, but which is actually quite important for any prospective writers to know.
Obviously, you want to put your best foot forward when writing for a high quality publication like Forbes. You want the top content you can possibly produce. After all, you’re not just gunning for a one-and-done link from Forbes, that’s a huge opportunity to waste. Being a Forbes contributor means being an acknowledge expert in your field. The only people writing for Forbes are people who can carry that reputation with them to their businesses, to their niches, to their resumes.
Forbes is making their contributor program, if anything, even more difficult to access than ever before. You really have to be an expert in your field, and you have to have a decisive voice, to catch the attention of an editor.
And yes, one thing that hasn’t changed is that each channel on Forbes, owned by a head editor and staffed by sub-editors, has control over its own domain. There’s no one person making hiring decisions, you simply need to reach the right person at the right time with the right content. Editors and reporters are given the leeway to bring new contributors into the fold if they think their voice is unique or their content is valuable enough to warrant it.
The giant asterisk, though, is how Forbes is keeping this from becoming a massive waste of money or a pathway to dropping quality. Every year, the Powers That Be in Forbes will go through and audit their entire contributors program. No longer an informal maxim, they’re formalizing and institutionalizing an annual culling of the worst performers on the site. Every year, the worst 10% of contributors will be cut from the program, their contracts ceased.
As far as I’m aware, being cut from the contributor program will not cause your published content to be dropped from the site, nor will you face any penalty other than simply no longer being able to publish on one of the most prominent and important publications in the world today.
Despite the new requirements for contributing to Forbes, there are new opportunities as well. Another quote from Mr. Lane: “Smart takes on daily news from our contributors frees up our newsroom, nearly 150-strong, to focus on the kind of deep-dive journalism, franchise lists and investigations that have been our hallmark for a century.”
In other words, daily news and trends are no longer strictly the domain of enfranchised journalists. This in turn means that contributors are no longer relegated to case studies and the usual content from their niches; they can go deep on the news and how it can relate to an industry. So long as it’s a unique take and isn’t already covered by an existing contributor, of course.
By allowing contributors to cover the casual news, Forbes is able to encourage its journalists to do the real deep journalism that the world has been moving away from the last few years, but that companies like BuzzFeed News have been bringing back. Forbes has long been at the forefront of deep journalism, and with this change, they don’t have to sacrifice the superficial to do it.
Getting in the Door
All of that said, writing for Forbes is no easy task. They’re one of the best publications in the world, and as such, the line for a chance to get in is as long as any you’ve ever seen. You can bet that every editor has an inbox full of competition for their time, and you really have to have a unique pitch to be given the time of day.
The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself. Figure out what your niche truly is. Trying to get into Forbes with half-baked content on a topic you don’t usually cover isn’t going to get you anywhere; the real experts will see you’re only faking it and you might just burn a bridge with an editor. Once you know yourself, and your content, you can figure out which channel on the site works best for you.
Once you’ve found that channel, you need to find an in. Figure out who the editors of importance are in that channel, because they’re the ones who can determine whether or not you get published. Figure out the kinds of content they like to see covered in their channel, and produce something that fits.
Of course, it always helps to have a personal recommendation. Take to LinkedIn or your other social networks and look for any friends or allies you may have in high places. If you can get a personal recommendation to an editor, you’ll stand out from the crowd, and you have a much better chance to get your foot in the door.