Wired retrenches, returns to its roots

Wired Magazine, the voice of the digital revolution, is growing up by returning to its roots -- in the medium that depends on trees. At its fifth birthday party in San Francisco Tuesday, the print magazine was feted while its various online offshoots were all but ignored.

Wired Magazine, the voice of the digital revolution, is growing up by returning to its roots -- in the medium that depends on trees. At its fifth birthday party in San Francisco Tuesday, the print magazine was feted while its various online offshoots were all but ignored.

By any accounting, Wired Magazine has been a commercial and creative success. Zooming from obscurity to a paid circulation of 400,000 in five years, Wired single-handedly transformed technology publishing by rejecting vertical, product-oriented editorial content in favor of a horizontal, culture-oriented model that was a hit with readers and advertisers alike.

Along the way, the magazine's design won an equal share of acclaim and criticism for its bold experimentation.

Louis Rossetto, Wired's founder and editorial director of its parent company, Wired Ventures, said the magazine's success was vindication of his premise that there was a "cohort of digital revolutionaries" who represented the vanguard of a "techno-libertarian" citizenry.

"I feel a certain satisfaction" that the magazine's utopian view of the Internet and computer technology was so widely accepted, Rossetto said. "I think we've disappointed certain critics by not being politically correct."

Carefully sidestepping the less-rosy picture for Wired Ventures' premier online properties, Hotwired and Wired News, Rossetto suggested too much attention has been paid to the inability of the company to use the magazine for launching other businesses.

"There has been an unrealistic expectation of new media," Rossetto said, while promising Wired Digital would be profitable in 1998. "It's a good business, but we think of it as any other medium -- it is on track and it will become profitable."

The magazine became profitable in the first quarter of 1996. But, according to documents it filed in an aborted attempt to go public, Wired Ventures' overall losses for the first nine months of that year were $42.8 million -- dragged down by the online businesses

Meanwhile, executive producers Chip Bayers and Gary Wolf at Wired Digital have quit in recent weeks. Those departures follow a round of layoffs at Wired Digital in November and rumors of an impending sale in December, which Rossetto vociferously denied at the time.

So it's no wonder Rossetto wants to talk only about Wired Magazine. With more than 1,300 ad pages per year, it's a cash cow that proves that while change is good ... the more things change, the more they stay the same.