101 Ways to Save
A special presentation of Stating the Obvious and The Netly News.
Cover image by
Just one year ago, the offices of HotWired were
electric with enthusiasm and anticipation. Not
only were the troops young, beautiful and hip most of the rest of
the world thought so too.
When it comes to jump-starting your day, nothing compares to being
a media darling the feeling that you're part of
something bigger than the sum of your bottom
lines. In short, the "Bengali
typhoon" of Louis Rossetto's vision still
suffused his company from the bottom up.
Today, after two failed IPOs, the company chafes under the girdle of financial necessity. What was once truly the flagship of new media, has been reduced to a half-dozen channels that are beginning to look like outtakes from just another trade publication. Packet has disappeared into the bowels of HotWired, and Flux has faded into that new beacon of hope, Wired News, which reads more like wire copy than Wired copy. Rossetto will soon vacate the helm of his latter-day Pequod; cofounder and former deputy editor John Battelle left recently to start a Wired-meets-the-Economist-style magazine backed by IDG; and old-timer Constance Hale has become a casualty of the HardWired meltdown, leaving shortly before her boss Peter Rutten hit the pavement. Frustration, exhaustion and simple sadness are palpable in SoMa.
So what's killing Wired's Digital Revolution®? The German Romantics called it Zehnsucht. Something like homesickness, but more like "time sickness." Not really nostalgia, though there's no small amount of that either. Wired is "time sick" because it's the child of an intractable speeding-up of linear time. Whereas old media traditionally allows itself a minimum of seven years to watch the red ink turn to black, Wired has responded to the in-house fiscal crises with an agressive plan to tighten margins quicker than AltaVista spits back search results.
The people in the corner offices seem to be saying to themselves, "What's making money online right now, and why aren't we doing it right now?" The pressure to bring good numbers to the show-and-tell has so far translated into paring down their content (while seeming to retain a robust, rosy-cheeked engineering department) to the point where anything that isn't dedicated to the vagaries of software and hardware looks like a hopeless indulgence. If generating real revenue is the immediate goal, it's a wonder Wired Digital hasn't just bagged content altogether and become the Sharper Image of the '90s, hawking the wares straight out of Fetish. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.
But for those of us who are deeply invested in and hope to continue drawing our salaries from the creative possibilities of new media, it's nothing short of depressing.
Viewed through a less emotional lens, it's obvious that the venture was never capitalized the way it needed to have been in order to meet reasonable expectations in a realistic time frame. The fight for content supremacy is long and dirty, an underfunded war of attrition. Always has been, whether you're talking about a daily newspaper or a First Edition hardcover or a killer web site. And the overindulgent Rossetto wanted them all at once, with a publishing house and TV program to boot. What most media monopolies take decades to build, Wired wanted overnight.
Some observers are surprised that Wired hasn't been snapped up by Disney, Microsoft or The Netly News by now. It would have assured the company's survival in only the most nominal sense, of course. Maybe it hasn't been acquired and appropriated because the brand has a lot of irrational value attached to it. It was the Fruitopia of Wall Street great graphics but too often it tasted a little gamey. Still, call me a hopeless idealist, but an IPO at any price would have been preferable to the current death by nickel and dime.
Which is to say that many of us freaks and geeks (some of the much-maligned "individual investors" who are driving the stock market to its current irrational levels) still believe in Wired Ventures. And, in lieu of divine intervention in the form of a blank cashier's check or a 25-hour day, we humbly offer up 101 ways to save Wired.