Wired calls itself 'mouthpiece of digital revolution'

April 04, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

When Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe launched Wired magazine last year, they weren't just aiming for a successful publication -- they wanted to make history.

"We realized we were in the middle of a [computer] revolution," says Mr. Rossetto, "but there was no journal for the people making it happen."

The business partners, who met in Europe in 1988, became immersed in leading-edge technologies while working on a magazine called Electric Word, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

While focusing on such exotic specialties as multilingual computing and speech synthesis, they were also watching technology spread into everyday life with the growing tide of PCs, modems, camcorders, CD-ROMS and other electronic equipment.

"We began to realize that suddenly this technology was allowing people to accomplish things that had been the domain of giant companies with big budgets," Ms. Metcalfe explains.

And that led to the vision behind Wired.

Although there were 4 million readers of computer magazines, what Ms. Metcalfe and Mr. Rossetto conceived was something different -- a lifestyle publication that gave an anthropological context to the high-tech revolution.

So in 1991, they returned to the United States and pulled together a business plan for Wired, which boldly promoted itself as the "mouthpiece of the digital revolution."

Mr. Rossetto and Ms. Metcalfe then knocked on doors of publishers of mainstream magazines.

"They looked at us with incredulity and pity," Mr. Rossetto says.

Then they tried computer and consumer publishers without success.

They finally connected with Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, which, for two decades, has pioneered research on converging technologies and their impact on individuals.

"He totally understood what we were doing and signed on, both as an investor and a contributor," says Mr. Rossetto, 44. "That gave us instant credibility."

By July 1991, they had raised enough money to rent a San Francisco loft and "worked like maniacs" to bring the magazine to life in January 1993.

"We went right to the newsstands with no focus groups, no direct mail and no promotional advertising," says Mr. Rossetto, who has an MBA from Columbia.

"We only did a low-cost campaign of bus billboards in major cities that Wired had arrived."

With a newsstand price of $4.95 (a 12-month subscription is $39.95), Wired's circulation has climbed to 110,000 in its first year.

The magazine jumped from bimonthly to monthly ahead of schedule and it is averaging more than 50 pages of ads per issue, Mr. Rossetto says.

"On all scales, we are around 50 percent over projection."

It seems Ms. Metcalfe and Mr. Rossetto were in the right place at the right time. Wired's first edition hit the newsstands the day President Clinton's inauguration ushered in an administration whose new buzzwords included "information superhighway."

And for the first time, both a president and a vice president had E-mail addresses.

"There was so much talk about technology, and the mainstream media didn't really know where to go," recalls Ms. Metcalfe, 32, an international affairs graduate of the University of Colorado. "We kind of wandered onto the stage with language they [journalists] could understand."

Wired, which one magazine reviewer described as a cross between the counterculture's Mondo 2000 and Vanity Fair, has attracted readers in Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, in Washington and throughout the entertainment industry.

Their two largest reader groups are the 18-to-24 Microsoft generation and the over-40 crowd, Ms. Metcalfe says.

"Being Wired is not an age, it's a mind-set," Ms. Metcalfe adds. "We have the chairman of the board and his daughter."

"We're looking at the issues of our day which have to do with technology," says managing editor John Battelle, 28, who had covered the converging technologies for trade magazines during the 1980s. "What does it mean? Who are its idols and anti-heroes? Its economics? What issues are being framed and discussed? What issues are being ignored?"

Wired has featured novelist William Gibson (who first defined "cyberpunk") viewing Singapore as "Disneyland with a death penalty," technology guru Michael Schrage's examination of the future of advertising, and "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton's proclamation of mass media as the new dinosaur.

The magazine's December cover story, an in-depth look at video game giant Sega's plan to dominate the world of interactive entertainment, spotlighted Sonic the Hedgehog as Wired's Man of the Year.

January's first anniversary issue was highlighted by "Microserfs," Douglas Coupland's much-talked-about fictional diary that chronicles the routine of computer nerds at the Microsoft empire.

The magazine examines both the dark side of the wired world (how the government is playing Big Brother with your driver's license) and its brighter aspects (the real revolution in health care will be technological).

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