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Conde Nast Gets Ready for Web 2.0

Advance's Digital Guru Steve Newhouse on Wired Deal

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now that Conde Nast Publications at long last has bought the Wired News site from Lycos, reuniting wired.com with Wired magazine, Advertising Age asked Steve Newhouse, chairman of the Advance.Net division of Conde parent Advance Publications: What comes next? In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Newhouse revealed that the company is on the hunt for high-tech acquisitions and partnerships, offered new details on Conde's planned site for teen girls and talked about making wired.com into the kind of Web 2.0 platform that Wired magazine covers all the time.
Steve Newhouse
Steve Newhouse

Advertising Age: Why were Wired magazine and Wired News ever separated, and what took you so long to reunite them?
Steve Newhouse: Wired Digital went through a parade of different incarnations and owners. Lycos was bought by the Spanish and then the Koreans. It went through different strategies and we were just never able to get it done. It was always a sore spot and something we aspired to do. That's why this is really a dream come true.

If you want to take a history detour, Wired was an amazing, pioneering magazine when it started in 1993 and because of that, for the first time we at Conde Nast took a minority stake in a publication. In 1993, I was delegated to be the Conde Nast representative at Wired, which was wonderful because it was the front row of the digital revolution.

Wired developed the first commercial website that aggregated an audience and sold advertising. Seeing that, we got hooked on the internet really early. Epicurious really developed because of what we saw unfold at wired.com.

Then, go forward a couple of years, and things were really crazy, both in the internet world and for Wired. They were selling their magazine; at the last second we heard about it and made a 23rd-hour offer and bought the magazine. At the time, the magazine and the website were separate and the site had an unbelievable valuation and we were unable to purchase it.

One of the really exciting parts of the acquisition is that it isn't just bringing back the Wired brand under one tent; it's that the Wired News site has a lot of value. It has developed a lot of cred, a passionate following. And it's developed really useful services.

There are so many places on the web connecting to Wired. If you know the Technorati weblog search engine, they have a ranking of sites based on how many bloggers link to them. Wired News, out of all media sites in the world, is No. 11. That kind of launching pad, that kind of foundation, is just priceless for our business.

AA: If that's the foundation, what do you build now?
Mr. Newhouse: Wired is kind of a pinnacle of Web 1.0, where you have great content and great design and it's very compelling. But over the past year or two the web has evolved. Different ways to grow and engage an audience have been developed. Web 2.0 is a next-generation concept that has really been pushed and commented on and championed by Wired magazine.

So for example, in the latest issue, Chris Anderson, the editor in chief, has a column on people power; this is the age of peer production. Because tools are democratized, the engine for growth is user generated, is sharing, is networking.

All this Web 2.0 opportunity hasn't been tapped by Wired News. It's just started -- the weblogging network is a really good first step. But one of the things that makes us so excited about where we can go is that we can really walk the talk that we've been talking in the magazine.

AA: What do you have in mind?
Mr. Newhouse: We have all kinds of ideas. The starting point for where we're going was hiring the general manager of the site, Kourosh Karimkhany. Kourosh is a real pioneering web journalist and thinker. He was at Yahoo News and then spent four years at Wired News. He really gets the Wired brand; he's very tied into Chris Anderson and that whole San Francisco enlightened circle.

Sometimes it's hard for us in New York to fully get the power of what's happening out there. There are really great startup companies to partner with; there are companies we're looking to acquire.

Under Lycos for the last few years Wired News has managed to do pretty well despite not having the resources to do much of anything. We are really going to invest resources in the site and expect to see a flowering of the audience.

AA: What is Conde Nast's web strategy?
Mr. Newhouse: We have always believed in the web. We've believed in it in a steady progressive way. We did not go and go crazy at the beginning and we did not fold our tents when things went bad. When we developed a destination site that worked in Epicurious, we thought we could expand on that.

As our sites grow and as the advertising opportunity gets greater, we are putting more emphasis on taking advantage of it. Within the last six months we created within Richard Beckman's Conde Nast Media Group a whole internet division. Richard hired Jason Krebs to head internet sales. That's allowed us to get the web in front of our largest customers in the kind of deals that Richard negotiates.

We now have a chance with Wired News to offer another great audience and engaged group to our advertising customers. That's really what we're known for and what we do.

Even though it's the web we still have kept to our kind of core position of really focusing on quality content. That seems to be what we do well.

AA: How is building Conde's planned teen site coming and what will the final product look like?
Mr. Newhouse: There is no shortcut to building a great website. Even though we have a lot of experience and a lot of great people, realizing the vision that we have of it is a lot of work. It's important to us as a company because it is truly a Web 2.0 site. It's certainly the first site we've developed that wasn't based on content, based on a magazine brand, that really is based on what we feel we can offer to teen girls that would really be great.

Against a lot of skepticism we launched Teen Vogue, the magazine. It worked because it's a great product. It's at the top. Teen Vogue, the magazine, shows that teen girls will still love a great magazine. What they're looking for on the web is something different -- they're not looking for a magazine, they're looking to express themselves. They want a different experience online than in print.

It's very exciting to able to complement this great print position with something very different and, hopefully, for the web medium something very compelling.
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