Chris Anderson: Defining Magazines & Why the Tablet is the Future of Wired
Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson reveals his journey to discovering why the iPad and tablet computers will be the future of his company
I attended a talk today given by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired. He was part of RIT’s Future of Reading conference and honestly, his presentation made my registration fee well worth the spend.
Chris talked about how Wired has been dealing with the changing options for publishing—print, web and tablet—as well as their economic impact on his publication. We’re all hearing of the terrible bloodbath in print media but here’s the thing: Wired is doing better now than it ever has!
It's clear to me the secret of their success is that Chris and his team are not afraid to think.
I say that because Wired has figured-out what business they are in. They’re not married to any sort of format, delivery mechanism or content type. In fact, Anderson said he’s thinking of trimming some portions of wired.com because it just does not lend itself to their business. He knows that because he knows what business he’s in.
Wired asked itself two questions.
1. What is a magazine?
2. Do people still want magazines?
The first question gets at the essence of what they offer. Chris believes a magazine is the following:
A magazine is a periodical
It’s an event. It’s heavily produced and then revealed at a specific time and on a regular basis.
A magazine creates suspense
Since it’s a periodical, it creates a sense of secrecy and suspense until it is revealed. What will the next issue be about? It could be about anything, so we have to wait and see.
A magazine is a curated collection
It’s a collection of content with a theme. It’s controlled by the creators. You can’t break it into it’s smaller parts and have the same value because it's really a collection.
So, the second question then begged to be answered. Do people still want an immersive, curated, periodic event?
The answer, of course, is yes.
Listening to Chris, I realized he’s not going to let romance or history or legacy dictate what he can and can not do with Wired. He has to think honestly about what business he is in and how to keep that business healthy.
Chris and his team evaluated their options. They have a print asset already in place and it works quite nicely as an immersive, curated, periodic event. At a time when everyone is crying that print is dead, Anderson knows his print will thrive.
They’ve developed a web version of Wired, but it’s not successful as a magazine. It’s hard to deliver an immersive, curated event on the web because it's too immediate and too atomized. Users want to get in quick and get out even quicker, the average time on their site being something like three minutes!
That leaves the new tablet-based options. Well, for now the only option worth mentioning is the iPad. Of course, when other tablets roll out with color, sound and interactivity that will change.
Since Chris knows his business he had to only figure-out three things.
1. Will the tablet become ubiquitous?
2. Will people want to engage it in a way that's immersive?
3. Will tablets allow Wired to create sustainable economic relationships with its subscribers?
Wired decided that all three were true and that the tablet is the future of their company. That’s a big commitment, which tells you what they think of the future of the tablet.
Anderson showed a demo of what Wired looks like on the iPad and it’s ridiculous! Seriously, these guys have figured it out. Watch the clip in full screen mode to get the full effect and then tell me if you want to run out and buy an iPad. I know I did when I saw it.
Of course, Anderson has an award-winning publication at his back while he figures this stuff out. Being part of Conde Nast, having access to deep financial resources and an army or bright minds does not hurt either. But, look, that never guarantees success, does it?
We can all learn a lesson from Chris and Wired. What business are we in? Telephony? Design? Law? High tech manufacturing? Anderson figured out that he's not in the paper magazine business, but that he sells immersive, curated periodic events. That freed him to create and deliver an amazing new experience that's quickly becoming the key to his company's future.
Don't be afraid to think, to ask tough questions. Figure out what business you're in, distilling it to its essence. We all have to do this because knowing what business we're in is the only way to make smart, bold decisions in the new world.
The original post stated that Wired was considering cutting significant portions of it's online content. After communicating with Chris Anderson we realized that was incorrect. The post has been updated in the interest of accuracy. Chris' comments follow.
We did an audit of Wired Magazine content on wired.com (magazine content represents considerably less than 10% of the content on wired.com, and the site is run by a different team, not me). We found that about a quarter to a third of the those stories (but less than 10% of word count) were getting almost no traffic, mostly because they were shorter items designed for print with a heavy integration of words, pictures and design, and they didn't make much sense when stripped of the design. So we decided to make those stories print and tablet only for now. We'll put them back on the web when we have a way to do so with design intact, be that Adobe Air, HTML 5 or some other method.
So just to be clear, that's <10% of <10%, or less than 1% of the content on wired.com that we're temporarily making print and tablet only while we wait for a better web-friendly solution.