With a new in-house consulting firm in the works, Wired U.K. is the latest publication to knock holes in the wall that traditionally stands between editorial and business departments. We're not talking peep holes, here, either. It's as if Condé Nast has wheeled a wrecking ball right up to editor-in-chief David Rowan's window and are waiting to start swinging (slash counting the money that flows out once clients start signing contracts).
Sorry to sound cynical. In fact, the hybrid magazine/consultancy model makes total sense from a business perspective. WWD's Samantha Conti quotes a Condé description of the new firm as offering clients "access and insight on the techniques, technologies, and people driving change." Rowan described his editors as a brain trust of sorts and explained to Conti that the magazine's journalists are learning a tremendous amount from sources, more "than they can fit into the magazine" to borrow Conti's words.
So why not offer them up to paying customers in half-day seminars or pay-to-play PowerPoint presentations? One historical concern with blending the editorial and the business teams is an ethical one. Once the editors get too close to the money, the thinking goes, the more likely they are to be influenced or biased by it. But as the Internet continues to upend traditional thinking about journalistic models and journalistic ethics, this worry is being weighed differently at different publications and their ombudsmen and -women. While 2011 saw some trends turn around, magazines' revenue figures have been in free fall for years. At the very least, companies like Condé need some sort of safety net if not a trampoline to send these once profitable little bundles of ink and tree (or pixel and silicon) back into the black.
More than one glossy has set up in-house consultancy firms much like the one that Wired U.K. is planning. The founders of Monocle, that thick fancy-looking international business and culture book you can never afford to buy, have one called Winkreative. The self-described "Global Branding, Design & Content" firm "prides itself on creating value enhancement for its clients through creative solutions anchored by a quality journalistic approach." It takes three or four clicks around the website and some close reading to learn about Winkreative's sibling-like relationship with Monocle. We're not sure if this is a conflict of interest. According to a recent New York Times profile of Tyler Brûlé, the founder of both the magazine and the consultancy, business is good.
Vice enjoys a similarly symbiotic relationship with its sister marketing firm Virtue. (Vice vs. Virtue, get it?) As we noted last month, that arrangement is also working out quite well. Shamelessly quoting ourselves, "Vice is on track to become one of the most valuable new media brands in the world. Vice is now worth an estimated $1 billion, and it's continuing to grow at breakneck speed. Next stop: China." We've not heard any complaints about either arrangements, and we'd guess that's because people don't want (or need) to trust magazines the way they need to trust newspapers.
We wish Wired U.K. luck. Since everyone's so excited about technology and the future, we're sure they'll develop a nice long docket of interested clients in no time. Based on the amount of square footage their parent company's agreed to lease in downtown Manhattan's Freedom Tower, too, we're sure they'll need a bit of a financial cushion. The rent is damn high.