The financially troubled UK edition of WIRED is on pretty thin ice throwing around slurs about commercial sustainability, writes Milo Yiannopoulos.
On the news stands this Thursday, WIRED magazine releases its WIRED 100, a list of the “innovators and influencers shaping the wired world”, in which, sad to say, your humble correspondent has this year plummeted from 84 down to 98. Here’s what the WIRED team and their editor David Rowan have published:
98 – MILO YIANNOPOULOS
PROVOCATEUR, THE KERNEL
Tech’s gadfly continues to provoke and irritate, often for its own sake. His influence has waned since he lost his Telegraph column, but his latest venture, The Kernel, has given him new power to torment. It’s a low-budget project, but its weekly Nutshell, a gossipy, legally uncautious newsletter, picks publicly on targets such as the government’s Tech City initiative. Unlikely to be a sustainable model, but he’s much talked about.
And I thought I was the bitchy one!
Quite honestly, I don’t care where my name appears in a ranking like this. They’re a dime a dozen in this industry. But I do care that unsubstantiated and untrue allegations are being made about my business, so I’d like to clear them up, because I don’t understand why WIRED is seeking to do damage to a commercial rival in this way.
Firstly, WIRED archly describes The Kernel as “a low-budget project”. Well, yes: we’re a five-month-old start-up. We don’t, for example, have a multinational media conglomerate propping up our annual losses like some people do. But putting aside the patronising use of the word “project”, I have to ask myself: how many other east London start-ups would WIRED denigrate as “low-budget”?
And does WIRED know something I don’t about our December 2011 seed round or our current round of fundraising? Or have the normally scrupulous fact-checking requirements at WIRED been set aside for the sake of a cheap dig? Because how else would they have any idea of how well-financed The Kernel is?
I happen to know that our editorial budget for freelance writers is a hell of a lot bigger than Mr Rowan’s, as our new contributing editor Mic Wright, currently compiling a breathtaking report on the technology recruitment industry, can attest. Mic has been reporting under cover for weeks for us on the execrable tactics of the tech recruitment industry.
Secondly, WIRED describes our phenomenally successful email bulletin, the Nutshell, as “a gossipy, legally uncautious newsletter”. (I presume they meant “incautious”.) Yeah, I suppose it is, at times. But that’s the flexibility you have when you’re a plucky upstart with out-of-house counsels who like to take risks, trying to shake things up. One has to wonder if Rowan is jealous of our freedom to break news he wouldn’t dare run himself.
Finally – and this is the serious bit, because it has the potential to damage our reputation – WIRED breezily writes that The Kernel is “unlikely to be a sustainable model”. And it’s here that we step into the realms of pure imagination, because I’m afraid the compiler of this catty put-down simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
It’s unsubstantiated, insupportable snark, pure and simple, entirely at odds with the tone of the rest of their report. And quite brave, if you ask me, given WIRED’s own chequered financial history. Remember, David, I’m well connected in this industry and I know exactly how much money your operation is losing…
So what’s really going on here? Because I’d love to know how David Rowan explains the striking difference in tone between the entries for the 99 other people on his list and my own. I mean, I’d hate to come across all suspicious, but could the remarks by any chance be interpreted as commercially-motivated? Or is he really that snobbish about other forms of journalism? Because uncorroborated, baseless aspersions are not what I associate with Condé Nast journalism.
When I spoke to a lawyer yesterday afternoon who has worked in publishing for 25 years, here’s what he said: “There’s only one way to read this paragraph, and that’s a sneering, mean-spirited swipe from a beleaguered incumbent at an exciting upstart. It sounds like a publication that knows its days are numbered.” Whether that statement is right or wrong, what’s clear is that such withering sarcasm simply isn’t very edifying behaviour from a commercial competitor.
Perhaps because they do a serviceable job of turning out a glossy, if somewhat over-designed, magazine every month, WIRED seems to think there’s something special about them, compared to the rest of the market. In a way they’re right. There is a difference between WIRED and publications like The Kernel: we actually make money.
I care about creating content people want to read and are prepared to put their hands in their back pockets for: I care about our readers. But I also care about people making unsubstantiated and untrue claims about my business that might damage the community we are building, which is what WIRED has done this week.
So here’s a challenge to Mr Rowan. I believe the best way to assess success in digital content is simple: subscriber revenue. It’s the only way you can really know if people are prepared to pay for what you’re churning out, because you’re building a loyal community around your publication who appreciate and support what you do.
Since we know print is on the way out, and Mr Rowan’s magazine is as much a casualty of that trend as any other, let’s discount print magazine cross-subsidisation for digital products. Let’s forget ads, forget sponsorships, forget conferences, forget “consultancy” services, forget emergency bail-outs from parent companies and, for the love of God, let’s forget luxury bloody watch supplements (known in the trade as “emergency life-support measures”).
You publish your iPad subscription revenue, Mr Rowan, and I’ll publish my Kernel membership revenue. And then we’ll see who gets to be snooty about whom. How does that sound?