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April 14, 2003

Who is Wired Magazine's Audience?

The advertisers, silly!

Now, to some degree, this is true of every piece of advertiser-supported mass media. But WiReD displays a mercenary zeal toward serving advertisers generally unseen in magazines that want their editorial to be taken seriously.

The latest issue includes a many-page insert on Wi-fi. It?s unfortunate that the considerable talents of writers like Paul Boutin and illustrators such as the folks at Xplane are wasted on this handjob for tech manufacturers. This extended advertorial ought to have had "Special Advertising Section" printed across every page, as it's clear none of this would have been published had the magazine not lined up the likes of Intel, Linksys, and others to support it.

Remember when Wired used to lead the technological mainstream? In 1994 they wrote about Mosaic long before most people had CD-ROM drives standard in their PCs. Now they write about Wi-fi long after it's been available at Wal-mart. And considering Wired's demographic, it's doubtful this piece offered anything new to their existing audience.

Though, I suppose a critique such as mine is also woefully outdated. Wired's lack of pith has been documented for years. I just find it uniquely frustrating, because there are still so few outlets for coverage of technology in our lives that goes beyond specifications and product reviews. I remember greeting Wired's first issue with enthusiasm, and for a while the magazine provided some social and cultural context for the technological revolution around us. But now, instead of giving us trenchant observations of how Wi-fi will affect us, like Howard Rheingold does in Smart Mobs, we get "Good-Bye 3G - Hello Wi-Fi Frappuccino" and articles about what gear to buy and companies to look out for.

A couple of months back, Wired published a poster featuring every cover (You can see all the covers here. I spent some time on a plane ride compiling an index of the people featured on the covers.

(Recognizable means an identified person, not a model used to illustrate a concept)

Recognizable men: 69
Recognizable women: 2 (Laurie Anderson and Sherry Turkle)
Issue date of most recent recognizable woman: April 1996
Recognizable African-American: 1 (John Lee. This doesn't include the white OJ Simpson cover.)
Issue date: December 1994
Recognizable Asian: 2 (Jerry Yang, JenHsun Huang)

Men used as models: 2 (May 94 and Nov 2002)
Women used as models: 5 (Nov 97, Oct 98, Dec 99, May 2000, Nov 2002)
Women shown mostly undressed: 4 (Nov 97, Oct 98, Dec 99, May 01 (yes, the last one is a drawing, I know))

Most appearances: 5 -- Bill Gates (followed by George Lucas, the Myst-producing Miller Brothers, and Neal Stephenson with 2 each)
Bearded film directors: 3 (George Lucas, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg)
Cyberpunk authors: 3 (Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson)

(In the above index, I did not include the people standing behind Douglas Coupland and Po Bronson on their oddly-similar covers.)

I?m sure there;s much more to be gleaned from this dataset. If I had the time or inclination, I considered pursuing subject matter (video games and war are featured quite frequently) and occupation (CEO, technologist, media mogul, and author seem most prevalent). Other data that would require way too much time to gather would include age and country of birth. Oh, and this stuff would be interesting to track over time -- which memes persisted, which died, which flourished? (the New Economy is definitely on the outs; cyborganisms on the rise)

Posted by peterme at April 14, 2003 09:26 PM

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Hi Peter,

I remember looking at the same cover poster and noticing the extreme lack of woman covers. Depressing. Annoying.

Interesting thoughts on Wired pandering to advertisers. One could certainly get that impression. Often I think the case is that a magazine knows it's going to do a big article on a subject, and then lines up advertisers that would be interested in having their page next to the article. Maybe now, given the atrocious advertising market out there, editors are giving more thought to lead stories that could help their ad depts generate more business.

But all in all I agree, Wired is Tired.

Posted by: elise bauer at April 15, 2003 12:07 AM

I think Wired "jumped the shark" in the second year, with the "Zippies" issue.


Posted by: wayne at April 15, 2003 01:00 PM

So, if not WiReD, then what? Any suggestions for similar magazines that haven't Jumped the Shark yet?

Posted by: charlie at April 17, 2003 06:32 AM

I'm not sure I share your derision. Is Wired comprised mostly of advertising and gadget spreads which are thinly disguised advertisements? Certainly. I take it you don't read alot of People, or Newsweek, or have never thumbed through a woman's magazine like Cosmo, or a softcore men's magazine like Maxim.

Anyone who thinks that any magazine (Outside a few renegades like National Geographic and Consumer Reports) is anything but a vehicle for advertising is seriously deluded.

And I certainly disagree with anyone who would contend that Wired is content free (Though you didn't, it felt like you were intimating that). Within the last year they have had stories which I have found fascinating, such as the story on Genetically engineered tobacco, Nike's project to build better marathon runners through technology, and the audio experts attempting to unerase Nixon's lost tape segments.

Who else is doing stories of that type? Popular Science would turn them into thinly veiled tabloid parodies. Slashdot? Perhaps they would, but they'd get most of the facts wrong, and go into length about why Genetically Engineered tobacco was bad for Open Source. And then post it twice.

Is one valid story per issue enough of a reason to drop $6? I'm not sure. I've dropped $20 before on a CD that I liked just one song.

While you're certainly entitled to your opinion, I would posit that simply because Wired isn't a world leader in tech/lifestyle reporting while shunning advertising out of an outdated and tired concept of journalistic integrity (Which hasn't existed for years anywhere else) doesn't make them a worthless rag.

And as for the covers, unfortunate perhaps, but they know their demographic. If most of the stories they write are for their mostly male demographic about items in fields dominated by males (and mostly male geeks), then I think it's explainable. I'd much rather they keep on doing what they're doing than contriving a story to create a cover with a woman.

Posted by: Chris Thompson at April 17, 2003 07:06 AM

Is Wired a "must read" for people in the tech field? No, not anymore. However I'd have to say in the past year the content has gotten better. In particular, as somebody noted before, it's a great value. I recently subscribed simply because the cost was so low, 10 or 12 dollars for a year I believe.

Ironically, my interest in Wired went down over the years as I spent more time online. I too remember when the first issue came out, it was exciting to read about the technological developments taking place, the effect of technology on other cultures, so forth. Nowadays, however, it seems that itch is scratched by articles and discussions I find online. The thrill of the new is found on the web rather than on a page. They've responded well by doing in depth articles on topics which probably wouldn't hold my interest online.

Of course, having said that, the Wifi supplement was indeed lame, it offered little new information. It seemed geared towards people who haven't taken the plunge into wireless yet, which as noted above, is not their target audience. But if the ad revenues fund another dozen articles on specialized subjects, then no harm done.

Posted by: Jeremy O at April 17, 2003 08:57 AM

Wired used to be on the "cutting-edge" but I think the majority of the population are not longer awed by what was once, and may now be considered, cutting-edge when published in a magazine. Information travels faster and therefore is able to be consumed that much quicker. Or maybe advertisements are just becoming more ubiquitous than computers.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 17, 2003 04:52 PM

I was a subscriber and religious reader after the second issue, but the chain of intelligent euphoria was broken during 97. There's been a recent (relatively minor) uptick in quality, but it's just not by or for the same people anymore. Many of those original people are somewhat disillusioned, and most of them would probably cringe at the things they wrote at the time. Nonetheless, inhaling the content and design immediately upon delivery for the first few years (including the always entertaining colophon) was a pleasant experience, and I'd like to thank all of the people involved. The NTK folks still show an occasional glimmer of boundless joy at the effervescent possibilities of zukünftige Technologien, if you need a new source.

Posted by: d at April 18, 2003 12:30 PM

You can read Wired for free and avoid the advertising. The issue goes online as soon as the print mags hit the stand. They started doing this a year ago.

Posted by: monkey at April 21, 2003 07:48 PM

I didn't mind them putting Bruce Sterling on the cover. Goood for Bruce, I thought. I stopped reading when they stared putting CEOs on the cover.

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Posted by: postal code at July 25, 2003 10:27 PM

Wired Mag is no longer anything near what it used to be, in fact, it is so far off it might as well close down. Who needs it.
I have also heard that Louis Rossetto has turned into a neo-con Republican screaming for an Iraqi war and crazily calling all Arabs Islamic fascists. He has a sick mind these days- poor boy-I have not heard a word about him for 6 years.

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Posted by: whois at August 22, 2003 07:57 PM

It was really interesting to read your comments about Wired magazine circa 2003. This is because I found exactly the same issues regarding promotion and gender occurring when I studied the magazine (circa 1993-1996)for my PhD dissertation. How long have you all been Wired readers?

Posted by: Dr Ann Willis at April 2, 2004 01:51 PM

I've not been a reader of Wired for very long, maybe just over a year, but I certainly enough mainy of the articles in Wired. I mean sure there is quite a bit of advertising, but if you're not a robot then no harm done.. Without the ad dollars there wouldn't be the good articles that are in there. There probably wouldn't even be the mag come to think of it..If you don't like the mag, then why waste your time complaining about it?

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Posted by: Martha Kaplan at September 10, 2004 08:41 AM

Who is Wired's target audience? What's the age group is it more of a guy's mag?

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