In another spasm in the business media world, Jim Spanfeller, the architect of Forbes Media’s widely regarded digital strategy, is stepping down as president and CEO of Forbes.com.
Spanfeller has had a high profile in the industry as chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and as a vocal critic of magazines’ use of third-party ad networks to sell their excess Web inventory. Under Spanfeller, Forbes was early in adopting an online ad network model that’s been gaining favor in the industry as an alternative to third-party networks.
Yet Forbes Media has struggled, along with other business publishers, to deal with the twin challenges of business news readers’ shift to the Web and the cyclical decline in print advertising. Against that backdrop, the McGraw-Hill Cos. announced this week it was exploring options for BusinessWeek.
As ad revenue has slid, Forbes has abandoned some of its Web verticals along with making multiple rounds of job cuts, trimming salaries for high earners and shuttering its conference business. It was considered late in combining its print and online staffs, integrating the two sides starting last November, long after many other publishers had taken steps to do so.
Spanfeller admitted his job lost some of its luster when he had to take on print-related responsibilities as part of that reorganization. He had become a member of a newly created office of the chairman, to which both print and digital reported.
“The idea of integrating online and offline is personally less appealing,” he said. “I’ve long held that if you try to manage two separate businesses, the small business always loses because all the thought and aspiration rests with the larger business. One of the reasons Forbes Digital was successful is because it was separate.”
Now that the Web site is the driver, it makes sense for both sides to be integrated, however, he said.
Spanfeller was widely speculated to be under pressure from Forbes Media minority owner Elevation Partners, but he said his departure was his decision.
A statement from Steve Forbes that went out to employees July 16 said Spanfeller would stay through the end of the summer and that he would be setting up his own media management company. He credited Spanfeller with making Forbes.com a leader among business Web sites and overseeing growth of its related properties, which include Investopedia.com, ForbesTraveler.com and the Finance Blog Network.
“The digital world is still uncharted with few rules, and Jim’s intellect, creativity, and business acumen helped bring us our number one position,” Forbes said in the statement. The statement didn’t say if Spanfeller would be replaced.