But if I told you that he was chief editor of a scorching-hot magazine produced by the quintessential New York glossy publishing house, you'd raise a skeptical eyebrow. "Right," you'd say, "and next you'll tell me he used to play bass in a punk band and pay the rent as a bike messenger."
That last part-also known as his 20s-doesn't appear on Chris Anderson's official biography. Even now, he looks a bit sheepish as he cops to it, conscious he risks coming across as just another geek seeking acceptance from the cool kids. But it was his passion for punk, more than his scientific credentials, that helped him bond with James Truman in 2001, which gave Mr. Truman, then Conde Nast Publications' editorial director, the confidence to turn Wired`s editorial product over to this journalist's vision.
The 44-year-old Mr. Anderson-a married father of three young kids who makes his home in Berkeley, Calif.-doesn't look the part of a Conde Nast editor, doesn't have Tina Brown's peacock presence, Anna Wintour's steel-edged inscrutability or Graydon Carter's life-all-its-own hair (in fact, Mr. Anderson doesn't have much hair at all, choosing to fashionably buzz the bit that's left).
But he has talent, sharp instincts and a dauntingly large brain-and he's put them all to use in his drive to reinvent and revive Wired, elevating the magazine to its rightful role as The Essential (Don't Even Think of Missing an Issue) Guide to the Digital Age.
"Chris is an enthusiast who has a theory about everything, and these two qualities are essential to Wired," Mr. Truman e-mailed from London. "The magazine is, in the best sense, speculative-it's about what will happen and what might happen-and it needs an editor who can fly above the status quo and trust what he sees there."
The irony of digital age
No easy task, that. In a media landscape flooded with iPods, cell phones, PDAs, DVRs, satellite radios and VOD, it's ironic that the most vital tool for understanding, translating and navigating the 21st century technology revolution is an ink-on-paper product distributed once a month through the mail.
Whatever. It's working. "To read Wired is to read the mainstream press six months ahead of time," says Tim Hanlon, Publicis Groupe's media futurist in residence.
Born in England to American parents and raised in D.C. from age 8, Mr. Anderson didn't have a visible profile for much of his career. "Chris wasn't on my radar-I don't know if he was on anyone's radar-before James Truman selected him," says Louis Rossetto, who founded Wired with his wife, Jane Metcalfe.
He's got a profile now, thanks in part to his compelling Long Tail theory on how the Internet's unlimited shelf space generates infinite demand and transforms a hits-based popular-culture economy into one ruled by niches. Mr. Anderson first laid out the theory in a Wired cover story a year ago, and is building it out day by day on his blog. He's just now finishing the first draft of a book that hits in June 2006.
Mr. Anderson, who holds the title of editor in chief at Wired, also grabbed the spotlight when he mounted the stage of the Waldorf-Astoria's ballroom earlier this year to grab hold of a National Magazine Award for general excellence. Now he's got another trophy to put on the shelf alongside it: He's Advertising Age's 2005 Editor of the Year.
Wired's mission is as simple as it is complex: to chronicle technology's impact on everything. "That's our lens on the world, and it's infinitely expandable," Mr. Anderson says.
Mr. Anderson took over Wired in July 2001 after a seven-year stint at The Economist, where he held various positions in the London, Hong Kong and New York bureaus, including technology editor. It was a year into the tech bust and just weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Wired had cooled off considerably from its heady early days, and there were questions about whether the magazine had run its course or would be ruined by corporate ownership. Launched in 1993 with $150,000 in backing, Wired was an instant hit, known as much for its DayGlo design and unreadably hip layouts as for its revolution-is-nigh content. But by 1998-tagged by critics as elitist and too futuristic-it was, says one observer, "struggling to find new relevance."
Conde Nast's enigmatic and mercurial chairman, S.I. Newhouse Jr., a minority investor in Wired from the early days, still believed; he swallowed Wired whole in a deal that valued the magazine at $95 million. Mr. Anderson shared Mr. Newhouse's outlook, even after the bubble burst. "What had gone wrong was the stock market, not the underlying technology trends," he says.
Pop culture score
Under Mr. Anderson's guidance, Wired became vastly more accessible without losing credibility or clouding its pages with hype. It regularly covers popular culture-Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Jon Stewart have graced covers-along with business, society, biotechnology and geopolitics.
"We made a shift to be more inclusive, less clubby," with shorter articles, simpler language and more infographics, says Mr. Anderson. "We're over the Internet's inner workings and on to its impact."
Mr. Anderson respects Wired's heritage, tries to retain what he calls the magazine's "natural optimism" that technology can be a force for good. "Chris brought excitement and energy again to the magazine," says Mr. Rossetto, who's become a friend. "I always wanted Wired to be an essential read, and today it's returning to that. I feel this visceral excitement about it."
It wasn't just Wired's scope that expanded, but the potential audience as ordinary folks discovered the life-changing powers of cell phones and iPods. "This is the most important story of our day," says Mr. Anderson, who's addicted to his smart phone and well-aware of his kids' preference for interactive and user-controlled screens (video games) over passive ones (TV).
Wired's success is evident on the circulation front. Its audience is mostly men in their late 30s, but there are a lot of them. Circulation grew 3.2%, topping 611,000, in the first half of 2005, with newsstand sales rising 16.7%. But ad pages fell by more than 12% to 646.1 in the first nine months of the year. VP-Publisher Drew Schutte blames that on softness in automotive and business/technology advertising, which makes up two-thirds of the magazine's base. Mr. Schutte says the fourth quarter looks strong, and that categories such as liquor, watches and travel are growing.
Si Newhouse says Mr. Anderson displays the traits he sees in all great editors: "Intuition, and a judgment about where they're going with a magazine that doesn't depend upon research or preconceived notions, but upon taste and gut instinct. Chris has done a remarkable job."
Because Wired and its Web site were sold separately, Mr. Anderson doesn't control the online version of his brand, though he claims to be happy with the quality of its content under current owner Lycos. He won't comment on whether he'd like to reunite the two, but insists monthly magazines still deliver an immersive experience that Web sites can't.
"I'm here for impact," Mr. Anderson says. "Twelve times a year, I try to blow people's minds with a big idea."
Wired, under Chris Anderson, saw paid circ rise 3.2% during first-half 2005, vs. a year earlier, to 611,283. Single-copy jumped 16.7% to 78,981, according to ABC. Ad pages are down 12.2% to 646.1 through September, according to PIB. Also, Wired snared a National Magazine Award for general excellence