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Who wants to be a billionaire?

A busy year at Bloomberg Markets magazine is about to climax with the release of their first ‘Billionaires’ issue. James Evelegh met with publisher Michael Dukmejian and Director EMEA, Laurie Benson to find out more.

By James Evelegh

Was it Peter Mandelson who was once famously (and probably mis-) quoted, as saying he was intensely relaxed with people becoming filthy rich? Well, in which case, he would have been very comfortable at the offices of Bloomberg, an organisation that is geared towards serving the needs of the mega rich.

The company’s gleaming London offices in Finsbury Square ooze wealth. Vast open spaces, polished floors and a dust free digital environment. The enormous, and probably not strictly necessary, fish tank at the head of the escalator is a bold statement of intent. The first floor reception area combines with the staff ‘pantry’, a huge well stocked M&S-style-food-hall serving up complimentary snacks and refreshments to Bloomberg’s 2,500 London staff and their guests.

Forgive me, I digress. But for someone who spent their early publishing career in companies with scraggy coffee stained carpets, sitting at desks hemmed in on all sides with boxes of magazines and registration cards, it was jaw dropping stuff.

If you are similarly easily impressed, then you can take the Bloomberg office tour here.

Anyway, back to Mike and Laurie.

At the core of the business, explained Mike, was the Bloomberg Terminal – a service which had 310,000 subscribers around the world, each paying $20k a year. (That explains the fish tank.) It is the living heart and soul of the business, and so much more than a data service. It is, said Laurie, a community of people (kind of like a Facebook for billionaires, I thought) and the number one thing about the community was communication. The platform hosted in the region of 12 million messages a day!

And, as you would expect in the era of big data, Terminal subscribers can cut and dice their community any which way. Want to know what the ‘most read’ article that day was? Easy, hit READ<GO>. Whose is the ‘most viewed profile’? Click MVP<GO>. See a list of the top 100 richest, which is updated daily. Hit RICH<GO>, and you see their net worth today, and how that compares with yesterday. For someone whose net wealth doesn’t vary much year to year, the figures in that column were truly eye watering.

Everything Bloomberg does builds out from the Terminal.

In 1992, the company launched Bloomberg Markets magazine, an advertising funded monthly title sent to Terminal subscribers as part of the package. The magazine’s pitch to advertisers?

Simple. “We deliver the global financial elite,” said Mike.

Whereas some publishers like to see their brand extensions as reaching out to new users, this has never been the case with this magazine. Mike is quick to stress that the overlap between the magazine circulation and the Bloomberg Terminal base is almost total. That is the USP. The Terminal is used by the “world’s richest men” and that is precisely who the magazine is sent to.

Having in effect a guaranteed circulation must have been a comfortable cushion for successive publishers of the magazine. Unlike other titles who live and die by each issue’s sales figures, Bloomberg Markets magazine could sale serenely along.

I am guessing the downside of that particular equation, might have been a tendency towards complacency. After all, there is nothing like the ebb and flow of circulation figures to hone your competitive instincts and drive development of the product.

Whether or not that was the case, the appointment in 2009 of Mike, an experienced publishing exec with a host of senior positions behind him, including on titles such as Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Time during a long spell at Time Inc, heralded a period of great activity and innovation on the magazine side of the business.

A successful redesign in 2010 was followed by the development of some major new editorial franchises. The recent October issue saw their second annual 50th Most Influential List, which included Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, US vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and 47 people I’d never heard of.

February this year saw the launch of a bi-annual spin-off title, Bloomberg Pursuits magazine, a title Mike describes as the world’s first “global luxury lifestyle magazine”.

Building on a regular, though small, wealth section in Markets magazine, the purpose of the launch was to test the appeal of the Bloomberg Terminal base to luxury end advertisers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the likes of Rolls Royce, Cartier and Chanel proved quite keen to display their wares to fabulously wealthy people. In fact, feedback to the launch issue was overwhelmingly positive. Advertisers were happy, as were readers, although they did indicate that they wanted to see a bit more technology and, interestingly, a bit more celebrity (billionaires are fans too).

The second issue has seen 33% more advertising, including from high end fashion and hotels, two sectors Mike was keen to target. Chef Alain Ducasse is on the cover and inside there is a photoshoot of a tuxedo clad Allen Leach, the socialist chauffeur from Downton. The title is developing a personality and finding its feet. Next year, Pursuits will increase frequency to quarterly and launch an iPad edition.

The iPad edition of Markets magazine, launched in June, has seen 40,000 downloads so far and 14,000 subscribers, mostly Terminal users opting into the iPad edition. Commercially, it has exceeded expectations and advertising has apparently sold out until Christmas. They have gone for a sponsorship model, and sell quarterly packages in the form of a single platinum sponsor and six gold sponsors.

With a global and highly mobile subscriber base, an iPad edition was a natural extension which complements the print edition. According to Laurie, C-suite iPad usage has rocketed from 24 to 42% in the past year.

14,000 iPad subscribers represents about 4% of the total print subscriber base opting to access the iPad version as well, but at this stage Mike sees no evidence of subscribers seeking to have their print copy stopped.

In fact, as far as Mike and Laurie are concerned, the “print magazine is here to stay”. According to Laurie, the much talked about decline in print is in the daily and weekly sectors, not the monthly and certainly not the luxury monthlies, which are booming. Just look at Vogue’s recent fall fashion issue in the US. “The luxury space really believes in magazines,” said Laurie.

The forthcoming December issue of Markets magazine sees the launch of a new editorial franchise: the Billionaires Issue. Err, doesn’t that sound familiar? Is there really a gap in the market? Hasn’t Forbes cornered the rich lists?

Well, said Mike, there is a “tremendous interest in billionaires”, and he says, Forbes has missed a few! Their list is incomplete. Bloomberg says it has identified hidden billionaires and they’ll be on the list.

Spearheading this assault on Forbes’ home territory is ex Forbes insider Matthew G Miller, a man who presumably knows a thing or two about compiling lists.

And the next big thing? The imminent lifting of restriction on the advertising of hedge funds in the US. Mike sees this as possibly opening the flood gates to a huge new influx of advertising dollars.

The fish are safe for another year!