Bits (or bytes) of the future

6 July 2009 at 8:46 am 1 comment


Tom Ding writes:

You may have noticed that Wired, the ‘magazine about what’s next’, recently re-launched in the UK after a twelve year hiatus. We’ve held off rushing to judgment, but after three issues it’s possible to more reflective.

The editorial from the first (re)- issue explained: ‘Whatever may be happening in today’s economy, the pace of change in business, science and culture is not slowing – which is why, unreconstructed optimists that we are, we believe there’s no better time to launch an exciting, inspiring magazine.’ The time has come, apparently, to ‘Subscribe to the future.’

But of course, Wired is itself a contradiction: everyone knows that there will be no magazines in the future; everything will be digital. Bytes, or bits, will have replaced atoms. As one reader tweeted, Wired is ‘the mag that cuts down trees to write about the paperless office’, and the editors also seem to struggle with an existential tension: in the third issue there are reviews of the latest e-books and a ‘how to’ guide about turning the magazine into a snack bowl or a picture frame.

There are many brands that manage to exploit internal tensions – American Apparel, for example, maintains its cool by combining pioneering ethical production with a reputation for sexual controversy – but instead Wired seems trapped by its own status, by its format. For all its engaging content, the magazine is caught uncomfortably between the lads’ mags and the blogosphere, between the mainstream and the cutting-edge, between the past and the future.

Yet whilst subscribing to Wired may never truly feel like subscribing to the future, it would be a mistake to think the most exciting alternatives are all found behind a screen. Stack is a new service that delivers a different independent magazine each month to its online subscribers (shades here of Rough Trade’s music subscription service), and Russell Davies (who also writes for Wired) recently helped print a ground-breaking newspaper called ‘Things our friends have written on the internet’. Perhaps the key for true magazines of the future will be to embrace the tension between paper and screen, and make more of the benefits of both.

The picture at the top is borrowed, with thanks, from magculture.

Entry filed under: media, technology. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Steve  |  14 July 2009 at 11:48 pm

    No magazines in the future? That sounds pretty bleak. I followed the link in that bit of the copy, though, and the blogger seems to be saying that it’s harder to be a journalist these days, rather than that magazines are dying.

    I’ve worked for lots of independent magazines that don’t pay anything at all – in fact most of the magazines on Stack (thanks for the mention by the way) fall into that category.

    It’s unfortunately true that independent magazines do go out of business quicker than their mainstream equivalents, but it’s also true that there are new magazines launching all the time to take their place. Magazines aren’t going anywhere – the world of print publications is changing but it’s not dying.


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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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