Thursday, April 09, 2009


I picked up the launch issue of the new UK edition of venerable US tech culture mag Wired. It's a curious rebirth.

The original UK edition ran from 1995-97, expiring before the dotcom bubble began to inflate. Check out Phil Gyford's covers gallery on Flickr - I got quite a buzz of nostalgia. This was around when I was training and starting work as a journo. I recall phoning their London office in early '96 to ask for a work placement, and getting knocked back by one of the staffers, the now rather famous Hari Kunzru.

In the years since then, I'd occasionally pick up the US edition. So I was very interested to see how the new local incarnation turned out.

First impressions: at 186 pages with a thick multi-fold cover, it's a fair bit thicker than the last US issue I read, though not as doorstop-like as the mag at its bubbly peak. But I wonder how much of the advertising was paid for at full rates.

Visually, the cover is cluttered and dim and hardly leaps off the shelf - not a great choice of image (a twilight cityscape) or tagline ('Your life in the future.' - is that the best they could come up with?). Also, the cover's printed on horrible, scrapey textured paper - it's probably a personal dislike, but it really didn't make me want to actually have the mag in my hands. The inner page design also doesn't quite have the practiced style of the US edition - though, mercifully, they do avoid that US practice of hiving off the last few pages of each feature into a spartan back section (another pet hate).

Content-wise, it also seems a little off. Unforgivably for a title which is supposed to be at the cutting edge, the first item in the zeitgeisty 'Start' section, a double-page splash of a CGI flooded London, dates from last July (possibly this was a tit-for-tat between the mag and the agency responsible who also provided the cover art). Otherwise it's all similar stuff to the parent, though maybe less self-assured. A few items could fit as well in any other bloke mag, while others (the 'Fetish' section of elaborately photographed hi-fi kit, including Bad Science-worthy £170 cables that come with a CD that 'demagnetises the cables, removing interference'; and another six pages of supercomputer cabling porn) seem more like Barleyesque pastiche.

The lead feature, a scrappy assemblage of predictions from a panel of professional futurists and such, won't startle anyone. I'd guess it's meant as a statement piece for the relaunch, but it just seems a painfully obvious thing to do. John O'Reilly's piece on 'life-tracking' (keeping an online record of the minutiae of your daily existence) is more interesting, but possibly for the wrong reasons - it all seems more like a personality disorder than the exciting new trend it's painted as.

Worryingly for the mag's potential future as a UK title, the most interesting articles are the ones reprinted from the US edition, including the very good one by Felix Salmon on Li's copula, aka 'the formula that brought down the global economy' (which I'd already read the previous month); and the riproaring 'Cowboys of the deep' piece by Joshua Davis, first published in February and already optioned as a movie. Nice to see them again, but surely a large part of the target audience will already have read them in the US mag, which has been widely available over here? There's also Andrew Corsello's hagiography of Elon Musk, recycled from Conde Nast stablemate GQ.

There's some fairly big name columnists, but the sheer ubiquity of people like Susan Greenfield, the always faintly ludicrous Alain de Botton and the rather tired Warren Ellis (who might have been an interesting choice about 10 years ago when he was walking off Hellblazer) means that there's very little reason to buy the mag to read their thoughts, which is surely the whole point of columnists.

It's good to see this ambitious popular tech title back on the racks, but I do think it'll have to up its game to survive, particularly in the current market. And for all the excitement about Web2.0 (or whatever it's called this week), one has to wonder whether the target readers for WiredUK2.0 are too wrapped up in their TwitFaceSpotified social meedja networks to actually go out and buy anything as old-fashioned as a paper magazine.



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