Brave New Wired: making the transition from print to everything

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The Independent Online

If anyone should know how to address the structural and technological problems facing the media it's Wired magazine, with its self-styled status as a soothsayer.

The UK edition of the title is at a pivotal point in its young history, transitioning from a monthly printed product into a business that supplements its revenues with exclusive events, bespoke consultancy services and a retail project, all trading on its reputation for being able to predict the future.

Its a journey that, to varying degrees, the entire print media needs to make but if anyone should know the way to the higher ground it really should be Wired.

At the end of last week, it held what editor David Rowan describes as "a pretty high-ticket-price" conference, Wired 2012, for which nearly 50 visionary speakers were brought to London from as far afield as the United States, India and South Korea. Wired doesn't go in for cosy discussions. "There are no panels, they don't work – I go to 30 conferences a year," Rowan said before the opening of the event.

The ticket price he referred to was £1,600. For their money, attendees received not just the wisdom of tech pioneers such as the Tumblr founder David Karp but also forward-thinking creative artists such as the designer Thomas Heatherwick and the actress and social media entrepreneur Lily Cole. Rowan works closely with speakers to ensure their talks are well-conceived and not verbose. "Our brand is about tight editing and excellence of design and we have to convey that on stage as well."

Delegates had an opportunity to mix with hackers, computer security experts and brain scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We want to ensure the networking is fantastic so that everyone you meet is worth a long conversation."

Businesses with even deeper pockets can buy a "Wired Consulting" service, with prices typically in five figures. For this, the magazine's events team will tailor an internal conference for an individual company. "We are hired by you and we will explain some of the stories and some of the trends that we know from our connections," says the editor.

Next month, Wired will partner with London First, the organisation which promotes business in the capital, to curate an event that will highlight the city's potential for investors and entrepreneurs founding start-ups. Rowan himself will give a keynote.

Publishers, especially those of trade titles, have long known the value of events in supplementing their diminishing advertising revenues. But Wired's offering of expert insight goes beyond the tired awards ceremony format based on selling tables and three-course dinners.

Wired certainly hasn't given up on print. Indeed it is diversifying within the medium by publishing a £5 product this week called The Wired World in 2013, a trends publication that will feature contributions from Sir Richard Branson, James Dyson and other pioneers who the title claims as being part of a "Wired network".

Rowan acknowledges this isn't a wholly original idea, given that titles such as The Economist and Time already have a track record in annual trends special editions.

Wired sales are continuing to grow, with the 52,136 print circulation for the six months to June being more than 1,000 up on the previous period. "For us print is still central to what we do, partly because design and photography are key to the Wired mission and we can do wonderful things on shiny pages," Rowan says.

But more than 5,000 additional sales a month in the last period came in iPad apps, and the digital proportion of total circulation has since grown even more. "It's exciting that it's a magazine but most of the revenues at some stage of the future will not be coming from the print product."

Indeed. Another of Rowan's big ideas for raising the brand profile is a pop up Wired store where visitors will be able to sample products chosen by the editorial team.

The store mirrors other Conde Nast ventures such as the Vogue cafes in Moscow and Dubai and a Russian GQ bar. It has a high-end location in London's Regent Street (rather than in trendy Old Street among the east London internet start-ups), as befits a title that takes advertising from the likes of Burberry and Audi.

Of course not every publication enjoys such cachet and can command five figure sums for the wisdom of its editorial staff or contributors. But Wired is facing the future by doing things differently and, like the magazine itself, it offers stimulating food for thought.

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