Crossed wires at 'Wired'

The mag sells 240,000 copies in the States. Why, asks Charles Arthur, did the UK version flop?

Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired magazine in the US, was recently running through some of the concepts in his new book about computer programs that mimic evolution. Kelly was preparing a conference speech, and he suggested to British design consultant Peter York that the programmer is in the position of a god - "and we must do all we can to be a kindly god".

York replied: "You can't stand up in front of a British audience and say that."

Kelly looked at York. "You're right: they'll think it's blasphemous."

"No, they won't," said York. "They'll think you've flipped your lid."

Are the Americans who run Wired unable to understand how the British mind works? That's one popular explanation for the fiasco that followed the much-hyped launch of Wired's UK version in March. Despite an advertising campaign on billboards and TV, initial sales of 60,000 reportedly fell to 25,000. After just three monthly issues, the US head office abruptly filed a suit requiring the Guardian group, which had an equal stake in Wired UK and had in effect run the magazine, to cease publication.

Disagreements within the magazine's UK editorial office - and, more importantly, with the head office on the other side of the Atlantic - meant that something had to give. Wired UK announced that its July issue would also be its August issue, and closed down for a brief power struggle. The shutters are about to come up again, and a new management structure has been put in place - but is the idea fatally flawed?

Wired US was launched in January 1993 from a small office in San Francisco, just an hour's drive north from Silicon Valley, the strip of land where small computer companies spring up almost daily, nourished by seemingly endless supplies of venture capital.

The new magazine tapped into the West Coast zeitgeist effortlessly, with its bold - some would say eye-bending - graphics, long articles about personalities and issues in and around the digital world, and snappy news items on products and events. Over there, it is the perfect lifestyle magazine, as long as your life revolves around things digital. Jane Metcalfe, the magazine's co-founder, says that it speaks to the "digerati".

Word spread fast, helped by use of the Internet. Within a year Wired was selling 160,000 copies in the US. (The figure now is 240,000.) It then began shipping 4,000 copies each month to Britain to be distributed by Comag. To the British reader, the magazine had the cachet of coming from a far-off place where they did things differently, spoke a different language, looked at different adverts, read different writers. Word spread in the UK just as it had in the US.

But Wired UK had none of that cachet. It was prepared in Britain, had British adverts and was written by people whose names were already familiar. It lacked buzz: it was 2point4 Children instead of Roseanne, Washington, Tyne & Wear rather than Washington DC.

Alun Anderson, the editor of New Scientist magazine, has read every issue of Wired US. He describes it as "a magazine whose time has come". But, in a review of the British version for the trade publication Magazine Business, he wrote: "This is not a competitor [to Wired US], but a strange, bastardised version ... editorially it's a hopeless mess." Anderson also believes strongly that "a British edition should reflect the British cynicism about all this stuff".

Besides, the thing about cyberspace is that everything is the same distance away - no further than your computer screen. Why try to put local flavour into a product that deals with something that is global? The US version of Wired has never limited its constituency - reports from Japan, Singapore, Britain, the Continent, even Africa, crop up regularly.

"The aim is to create a global pool of editorial material," says Metcalfe. This is already happening, with Wired US using a profile of Richard Dawkins (author of The Blind Watchmaker) that has appeared in Wired's UK version. "But the real thing is that in magazine publishing you have paper, and you have to truck it around."

There are plans, though, to print some copies of the US issue in Europe. Metcalfe justifies this with the seemingly self-contradictory statement. "If you take seriously the idea that the Internet is breaking down national boundaries," she says, "then the national reactions to that are interesting."

The great British public, it seems, remains to be convinced. As Anderson says, "It needs to be cynical and gritty." Perhaps they should move the offices out of London. Any prospect of relocating to Washington, Tyne & Wear?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power