They say timing is everything.
As luck would have it, in January 1993, a convergence of technology and talent forged the first consumer magazine that would define—and in essence, become—the voice of the digital revolution. Never before had a publication so deftly linked the conversation around technology to that of the zeitgeist—nor would it ever happen in exactly the same way again.
Few magazines earn the status of icon—Time, Vogue, Playboy, several others—and the doors are closing fast. Ironically, the very march of technology Wired celebrates remains a serious challenge to its print business, along with the rest of the publishing industry.
Yet when Wired launched, the Internet was still in its infancy. America Online, Netscape Navigator, the Apple Newton and Palm were getting into the hot hands of ordinary folks. Instead of making a magazine for nerds, business and life partners Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe created something smart—and even more importantly, something very cool.
In Wired’s first issue, founding editor Rossetto argued that there was a market for such a publication “because the Digital Revolution is whipping through our lives like a Bengali typhoon.” Now, of course, it all seems like a no-brainer.
Like Rolling Stone before it, San Francisco-based Wired was visionary in its approach, with its Day-Glo covers and prescient articles on how technology would take over our lives. Star writers over time have included everyone from Grateful Dead lyricist and Electronic Frontier Foundation member John Perry Barlow to virtual reality guru Jaron Lanier, cyberpunk Bruce Sterling and novelist Douglas Coupland of Generation X fame. Wired, under its influential former editor in chief Chris Anderson, also can take credit for coining such terms as “crowdsourcing” and “long tail.”
What is remarkable is that Wired, in addition to all its requisite digital spinoffs, continues after two decades to publish a print edition that maintains a healthy circulation of more than 800,000. This, after surviving some formidable competition during the boom years of the late ’90s (think: Business 2.0, The Industry Standard, Yahoo! Internet Life, etc.), not to mention the dot-com bubble of 2000, a failed IPO and, more recently, the Great Recession.
As magazines at large have struggled, Wired has thrived, thanks in no small part to its owner and patron Condé Nast, home to such titles as Vogue and GQ. Condé Nast parent Advance Publications was an early investor in Wired, but in 1998, in what was at the time considered a headscratcher of a move, the publisher assumed full ownership (eight years later, it would reunite the magazine with its online companion Wired News). At the outset, many in the media business wondered whether Wired might lose its mojo under the aegis of the glossy publisher. After all, what did the fashionistas know about technology?
One thing’s certain: After Wired came along, they sure learned a lot more. Today, Advance counts among its digital holdings the social news site Reddit—for which it paid a reported $20 million in 2006, and which, according to Forbes, is now worth a cool $240 million—as well as the über-geeky Ars Technica, acquired in 2008.
Today, darlings of digital media like BuzzFeed have become curators for the ADD generation, while the number of tech-news sites—from TechCrunch and PandoDaily to AllThingsD and The Verge—continues to grow. Then, of course, there’s the rise of Twitter as a newsgathering force. And yet Wired— which just last week was nominated for three National Magazine Awards, including one for General Excellence— keeps on proving that it is as vital and relevant as ever.