Rossetto was right about Wired

In December 1988, Redwood/BBC Magazines tried to launch a monthly technology magazine, Tomorrow’s World. The TV series had big viewing figures – it was scheduled after Top of the Pops – but the title was a failure. It had hoped for 80,000 sales, yet came in with 61,314 (you can watch old episodes of the programme on the BBC’s archive website).

Gruner + Jahr had made a better fist of it with Focus, which is still around selling 71,783 a month and ended up, ironically, in the hands of the BBC after passing through Nat Mags when G+J folded its UK operations.

Then, the Guardian had a crack with cyberfocused Wired in a joint venture with the US parent. It hit the streets to much fanfare in March 1995 and returned an early ABC figure of 29,712. But relations fell apart, the Guardian pulled out, Wired Ventures announced big losses in the UK and Japan in 1996 and the plug was pulled in February 1997. Conde Nast, which owned 10% of the US parent, showed no interest in coming to its rescue.

Twelve years later though, Conde Nast owns the whole Wired caboodle and launches a UK edition, which turns in a first ABC last month of 48,275. That figure though hides 8,200 copies outside the UK, 10,000 subs at below rate and 10,000 freebies. So full-price newstand sales come out at just 19,280 copies. Gulp.

There’s a question mark over whether the UK is big enough for such a cool technology title. As with so many sectors – such as sports and news magazines – there is just too much coverage in the papers to compete with. Back in 1995, Media Week put the split between the Guardian and Wired Ventures down to the attitude of Wired’s founder, Louis Rossetto (‘Taut Wired finally snaps’, 4 August):

‘Louis liked the idea of a UK edition,’ says a Guardian insider, ‘but in practice he wasn’t that keen.’ There were said to be two problems – first that Rossetto believed that Wired was a global phenomenon, and therefore that the idea of radically different local editions was anathema.

To my mind, Rossetto was right. Applying a Vogue model of local editions to a borderline market won’t work. Esquire’s failed UK edition in the 1950s jumps to mind as a good comparison (and today’s is hardly a ringing success), as is Condé Nast’s Men in Vogue in the 1960s. Also, it tends to be forgotten that what drove the launch of British Vogue was the fact that the first world war made shipping it over from the US impossible.

Far better to look to the Monocle model with a true internationalist’s eye on the world from London.

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One Response to “Rossetto was right about Wired”

  1. Andrew Says:

    You may be right about the numbers, though I do think that Wired UK and Wired Italia do an excellent job of local tech coverage, rather than the entirely US bias of the American edition. (Disclosure: I’ve written for Wired UK and Wired US in the past – and have first-hand experience of their different editorial angles)

    If you want to read an entertaining account of what went wrong first time around for Wired UK, this is pretty much essential reading: http://www.spesh.com/danny/wireduk/

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