Wired nests with Condi Nast

Will the magazine's new owners dull its edge?


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Lori Leibovich
May 8, 1998 11:00PM (UTC)

Now that Wired -- the magazine that made the "digital revolution" a household name -- has been sold to decidedly mainstream Condi Nast Publications, will its visions of the digital future grow more conventional?

Wired editor Katrina Heron said it's too soon to say how the sale will affect the magazine: "I've been making changes every issue as quickly as I could after becoming editor in chief in December. There are many more changes I'd like to make. I've had preliminary discussions with James Truman, who is the editorial director of Condi Nast, and I really like his ideas." But Heron would not specify what those ideas were.

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Sold yesterday for a reported $80 million to Advance Publications Inc., which includes Condi Nast magazines, the San Francisco-based Wired is splintering from its online siblings -- Hotwired, Wired News, HotBot and Suck. Advance, which also includes a group of weekly business journals and several newspapers, already owned a stake in Wired Ventures, Wired's parent company. S.I. Newhouse, publisher of Advance, apparently made an offer in response to widespread reports earlier this week that Wired was in negotiations with the Los Angeles-based Miller Publications, which publishes Spin, Vibe and other magazines.

"I'm still reeling from the news. I think it caught everybody by surprise," said a former Wired employee. "I was following the stuff about Miller; I know they were in there talking to people. My question is: Did Condi Nast buy it because they have a plan, or did they buy it because they just wanted it? I don't know. Whenever you have a new owner, there is the chance that they will make changes."

"Si has always been a fan of Wired," said Heron, suggesting that the publishing magnate wouldn't want to tinker too much with a publication he admires. Still, Wired's circulation -- around 450,000 -- is significantly lower than that of Newhouse titles like Vanity Fair and Vogue. Since Heron took the helm of the magazine from cofounder Louis Rossetto last December, the magazine has instituted a cleaner design and a more critical editorial approach to technology.

Before joining Wired as an editor at large in September 1995, Heron, 43, worked for Condi Nast as a senior editor at Vanity Fair and the New Yorker with Tina Brown. "My goal," she says, "is that the magazine not be insider-y, but instead be a community where people can come to get the information they need."

"Certainly the intent is not to become mainstream," said Shelly Tatum, a magazine spokesperson. "But time will tell. 'Mainstream' is really just a matter of semantics. Given the support and partnership of Condi Nast, that might change."

Both Tatum and Heron said that they were assured by Newhouse that the magazine's base will remain in San Francisco.

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At a staff meeting Thursday night to announce the sale, Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe -- the husband-and-wife team who founded the magazine in 1993 -- seemed visibly upset, according to Wired staffers.

"Louis didn't look too happy," one said. "Think about it -- he started this magazine with the intention of creating a whole new publishing paradigm. He didn't have a lot of say in what happens. I don't know what he's going to do here. All along he's said, digital is the future. Now he'll be forced to back that up."

Neither Rossetto nor Metcalfe will have any role at the new magazine, though they will remain members of the board. Neither was available today for comment.

Wired Digital will retain "the perpetual exclusive online rights to the Wired brand name," according to a company press report. "We can use the content on our site pretty much forever at no cost to us," said Andrew De Vries, a spokesperson for Wired Digital. "At least for the next three years, we will maintain the Wired magazine site as well."

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Beth Vanderslice will remain in her role as president of Wired Digital, and Wired Ventures will reformulate its board, according to De Vries. Vanderslice was unavailable for comment.

Some analysts were surprised that Condi Nast didn't gobble up Wired Digital along with the magazine. "It seems like online is an area that Condi Nast is starting to be more aggressive in," said Mark Mooradian, an analyst with Jupiter Communications in New York. "I was surprised they didn't buy Digital, because if they are trying to create a network of sites, having Wired properties would certainly add value to their other Web sites, like Epicurious and Swoon."

"It's ironic," Mooradian added, "because ultimately the Digital properties might be competing with Wired."

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Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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