For a digital bible, Wired has been turning surprisingly analog over the past year. The latest regressions: The publication just fired two top editors from Wired.com and may soon lose the founders of Reddit.com.
Wired.com managing editor Marty Cortinas and copy chief Tony Long were laid off last week, sources tell us, though it's expected the two will stay on through the end of the year. The loss of two people, even high ranking ones, might not seem too brutal but for the website's recent history: it lost a quarter of its staff last November, along with a closely-aligned development executive at parent company CondéNet; then in April it lost more staff, including managing editor Leander Kahney, two other full-time employees, an unknown number of freelancers and several writers at Wired Digital's Ars Technica website.
On top of that, people close to the company whisper that the two founders of social news website Reddit, and potentially other staff, may soon be out the Wired door. Co-founder Alexis Ohanian is planning a celebration to take place on the third anniversary of the site's acquisition by Wired Digital on Oct. 31. And there's reason to think this will be more jovial than your typical Halloween party: Three years is a typical outer limit used in "earn out" agreements, in which startup founders vest progressively more money from their acquirers as time goes on. This gives them incentive to integrate their creation into the acquiring company rather than bolting for the door. Ohanian, believed to be hitting his final earn-out date along with co-founder Steve Huffman, declined to comment.
Of course, there's nothing unusual about entrepreneurial Silicon Valley programmers moving on to new challenges. Reddit would likely continue operating just fine without Ohanian and Huffman. And Wired.com marches forward under editor Evan Hansen.
But it's not lost on some Wired.com insiders that the further reduction of Wired Digital comes as New York-based parent company Condé Nast clings to a magazine-centric business model that's been a real disaster lately. After hiring McKinsey & Company's consultants, Condé closed four magazines and slashed magazine budgets, by 25 percent at many titles. And while Wired Digital's already-bled websites and blogs may have strong traffic, advertising and critical notice — they were recently nominated alongside the Washington Post, BBC and New York Times for the Online News Association's general excellence award — they've been included in the cuts.
So how is Condé expecting to survive the next big tumble in magazine advertising, if not with its websites? Through the vision of print side editors like Wired's Chris Anderson, who seems, to some Condé Nasties at least,to have spent so much time on books and speaking gigs he's forgotten to help sell ads — or to try and truly integrate his magazine with his website? Anderson's ad-hemorrhaging Wired print, mind you, has thus far escaped unscathed by the McKinsey cutbacks, we're reliably informed. Despite his good fortune, Anderson is even rumored to be advocating that Wired.com get by on more crowdsourced, written-for-Free blogs like GeekDad. Asked about this, Anderson wrote, "Evan Hansen runs Wired.com, not me." Hansen declined to be interviewed.
Or maybe the Apple Tablet, Microsoft Courier and Amazon Kindle, among other e-readers, will miraculously allow Condé Nast's old business model to seamlessly transition to the digital age, with no real internal changes necessary.
That might all sound preposterous. But it's the best rationale we've come up with for why Condé Nast would starve key websites — the best hope for its future, really — of resources. Granted, it's much easier to remain in a state of denial than to confront real and looming problems. But we thought Condé might have already hit rock bottom and changed its thinking. Apparently not.