It seems to me that there's probably been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on recently at Wired World Headquarters. After all, they missed their chances to be gazillionaires by just a few months. If only Wired had made its Initial Public Offering when investors were blissed out on the hard stuff -- when they were tossing money at Net-oriented stocks like smacked-out supermodels on a shopping spree -- things might have been a little bit different.
Timing. How else to explain companies like Netscape and Yahoo! making killings right out of the box while answering questions like "Yeah, but what do you sell? How do you make money?" with blank stares and foot shuffling. (Answer: they made their money through IPOs. Duh. In essence, they hacked the Stock Market. ) Wired, at least, has a successful and influential magazine, and they can continue to jack up advertising rates as long as their circulation keeps rising.
Nevertheless, it must have been some kinda shock to a company that's usually been so far ahead it defined the very arc of the curve, discovering that, well, this time, they were just a little too late. Timing. As Wall Street went cold turkey on high-tech (no doubt led by public reaction to Yahoo!'s stomach-turning "Do You Yahoo?" ad campaign), Wired smelled not just disaster, but an incredibly highly-publicized and embarrassing disaster. So they bailed. You could hear the cries of "run away! run away!" all over Multimedia Gulch.
However, once caught, IPO fever doesn't abate easily. I can only imagine what actually went on at Wired behind closed doors. In fact, I did . . .
Kingpin Lewis Rosetto Jr railing: "It's not fair! I discovered the goddamned Digital Revolution! Why should Andreesen make all the money? All he did was invent stuff. I exploited it!" Then, shocking everybody in the room, he would declare cyberspace "in and of itself a monetary dead end. Negroponte is always talking about bits and bytes, but those aren't real! This!" he would say, slamming one of those new $100 bills on the table, "This is reality! Cold hard cash. And don't you think it's about time we got some?!?"
And buoyed by a thunderous round of applause, he would then unveil Wired's super-secret strategy for becoming profitable enough to ram their IPO through by Summer '97, at the very latest. Luckily, I can also imagine that I have a source inside of Wired who gave me the hot poop on their strategy.
The concept: extend the Wired brand name, graphic feel and haughty attitude towards "old-school businesses." This, of course, isn't that new: they've recently added Hardwired, their book publishing division, as well as Netizen, an MSNBC TV show. So they were already heading down that path. What would be new is the scope and nature of their expansion. As my source pointed out: "Wired is about to expand hardcore into the real world. Web sites like Hot Wired and Suck are tres hip and edgy, but they don't bring in any Robert Dinero, if you know what I mean."
These new Wired-spawned businesses would have only two things in common: they would have virtually nothing to do with the mass media, and they would all be in businesses that were -- unlike cyberspace -- "guaranteed moneymakers."
I loved this one, though it caused Stuart a bit of a worry that the litigious Wired to take some kind of legal action. Me, who grew up on Mad Magazine; National Lampoon and Hunter Thompson, wasn't so worried. I knew that it was satire, and shouldn't be a problem.
Nope, I was worried about getting stomped as I walked down stairs past Wired's open door every day. Or some weird work-related recrimination.
Of course, nothing happened.
And oh yeah, I still read Wired every month.
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This page HTMLized on 6 October 1997
I was listening to Bob Dylan -- Time Out Of Mind