Power of Digits Part II

Looking into some numbers quoted by the NYTimes about an overexuberant and since repudiated forecast for Forbes.com's future sales.

I get pretty squeamish when I spot information floating around online, moving from site to site, blog to blog, that looks questionable, but doesn't get subjected to any skepticism. Yet, I always imagine that when it becomes a key point in an argument, blog post or article, due diligence will get done.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened up the NY Times on Monday and saw a column by David Carr on the state of business magazines (including BusinessWeek). I thought it was an interesting read, but in explaining the rising strength of the Internet (which I don't dispute), Carr simply rehashed some apparently off-the-cuff remarks, writing that recently "a Forbes executive said the digital version of the storied brand will produce more revenue than the print version within the next two years."

Thing is, when I emailed a pr person at Forbes a month ago about this, they essentially repudiated that projection.

And when you look at the numbers, you see why it was an "exuberant" remark:.

Tim Mullaney, who covers online advertising for us, did a quick check when I flagged the first mention of this back in early May. He checked out Magazine.org, which has a link called PIB (an acronym for Publishers Information Bureau, I think) Stats or PIB Monthly Stats.

Tim explained all this to me this way: "The PIB basically counts ad pages in the magazines it tracks, and then estimates revenue. The usual wisdom is that the page counts are accurate--they can be easily verified -- but the revenue numbers are too high, because no one knows what the discounts are for advertising. So the claim that Forbes mag had $325 million in revenue last year may be a little high, but it's a kind of industry-recognized number that's seen as the best available proxy for an exact figure that is not public knowledge."

We don't know how much Forbes is making online because they are a private company. But let's take a quick, admittedly rough look at the competition. In the three quarters before it was bought by Dow Jones and had its numbers incorporated into that company's, CBS Marketwatch reported 2004 sales of around $58 million.

I guess now my worry that the bandying about of numbers online is now extended to professional reporters reading those numbers.

On the positive side, though I unsuccessfully tried to Google Carr's email, I get to blog about it here.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE