How Do You “Wire” A Paper Product? (More Thoughts About Content Packaging And Pricing)

Stephanie Clifford of The New York Times takes a careful look at Wired, the magazine’s present difficulties and its enigmatic leader, Chris “Long Tail” Anderson.
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In 2006, Mr. Anderson published “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” arguing that the Internet allows for the sale of an array of niche products rather than relying on blockbusters. In “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” which comes out in July, Mr. Anderson proposes that businesses can profit from giving some products away rather than charging for them.
From a business perspective, Wired is being hurt by both those phenomena. The Web site is free, but it has not convinced most visitors to subscribe to the magazine. As for the “long tail,” Wired is not big enough to be a can’t-miss advertising buy for national marketers, nor niche enough to have a narrowly defined audience of, say, auto buyers or watch enthusiasts.

Clifford points out that the magazine has lost 50 percent of its ad pages so far this year, ranking among the worst off of the more than 150 monthly magazines measured by Media Industry Newsletter. Only Portfolio, which Condé Nast shut down last month, and Power and Motoryacht fared worse.
Wired is one of the smallest magazines at Condé Nast, with a circulation of only 704,000. Its Web site, meanwhile, is the most popular of Condé Nast’s magazine sites, with about 11 million unique visitors a month, according to the company’s internal figures.
Mr. Anderson–who gives 50 speeches a year for an estimated $35,000 to $50,000 apiece–focuses just on the magazine, and does not oversee Wired’s Web site.
Clifford’s article begins to peel back the silicon gloss. Could it be a developing meme? I’ve mentioned before that the timing of Anderson’s new book is horrible. Who wants to hear about “free” being the ticket, right now? Do you? I understand the value of a fremium business model, believe me, but I also understand that “free” has to lead to “paid” or it’s a waste.
Right now, Wired.com is a free offering. Maybe it’s an “ad” for the magazine. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? The magazine makes sense as an ad for the Web site, if you ask me (provided the Web site can be effectively monetized).

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About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.