April 14, 2003

Who is Wired Magazine's Audience?

The advertisers, silly!

Now, to some degree, this is true of every piece of advertiser-supported mass media. But WiReD displays a mercenary zeal toward serving advertisers generally unseen in magazines that want their editorial to be taken seriously.

The latest issue includes a many-page insert on Wi-fi. It?s unfortunate that the considerable talents of writers like Paul Boutin and illustrators such as the folks at Xplane are wasted on this handjob for tech manufacturers. This extended advertorial ought to have had "Special Advertising Section" printed across every page, as it's clear none of this would have been published had the magazine not lined up the likes of Intel, Linksys, and others to support it.

Remember when Wired used to lead the technological mainstream? In 1994 they wrote about Mosaic long before most people had CD-ROM drives standard in their PCs. Now they write about Wi-fi long after it's been available at Wal-mart. And considering Wired's demographic, it's doubtful this piece offered anything new to their existing audience.

Though, I suppose a critique such as mine is also woefully outdated. Wired's lack of pith has been documented for years. I just find it uniquely frustrating, because there are still so few outlets for coverage of technology in our lives that goes beyond specifications and product reviews. I remember greeting Wired's first issue with enthusiasm, and for a while the magazine provided some social and cultural context for the technological revolution around us. But now, instead of giving us trenchant observations of how Wi-fi will affect us, like Howard Rheingold does in Smart Mobs, we get "Good-Bye 3G - Hello Wi-Fi Frappuccino" and articles about what gear to buy and companies to look out for.

A couple of months back, Wired published a poster featuring every cover (You can see all the covers here. I spent some time on a plane ride compiling an index of the people featured on the covers.

(Recognizable means an identified person, not a model used to illustrate a concept)

Recognizable men: 69
Recognizable women: 2 (Laurie Anderson and Sherry Turkle)
Issue date of most recent recognizable woman: April 1996
Recognizable African-American: 1 (John Lee. This doesn't include the white OJ Simpson cover.)
Issue date: December 1994
Recognizable Asian: 2 (Jerry Yang, JenHsun Huang)

Men used as models: 2 (May 94 and Nov 2002)
Women used as models: 5 (Nov 97, Oct 98, Dec 99, May 2000, Nov 2002)
Women shown mostly undressed: 4 (Nov 97, Oct 98, Dec 99, May 01 (yes, the last one is a drawing, I know))

Most appearances: 5 -- Bill Gates (followed by George Lucas, the Myst-producing Miller Brothers, and Neal Stephenson with 2 each)
Bearded film directors: 3 (George Lucas, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg)
Cyberpunk authors: 3 (Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson)

(In the above index, I did not include the people standing behind Douglas Coupland and Po Bronson on their oddly-similar covers.)

I?m sure there;s much more to be gleaned from this dataset. If I had the time or inclination, I considered pursuing subject matter (video games and war are featured quite frequently) and occupation (CEO, technologist, media mogul, and author seem most prevalent). Other data that would require way too much time to gather would include age and country of birth. Oh, and this stuff would be interesting to track over time -- which memes persisted, which died, which flourished? (the New Economy is definitely on the outs; cyborganisms on the rise)

Posted by peterme at 09:26 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack


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