Why Jann Wenner let WIRED launch the “Rolling Stone” of technology

Rock idols, movie stars and presidential candidates who quoted Bob Dylan, not tech giants, were rolling stone‘s stock in trade. Wenner knew Steve Jobs and noted some similarities – when they met in the early 1980s, they were both long-haired Dylan aficionados who had disrupted their domains – but the two never really got along. “We had a conventional professional disagreement about the future of print,” says Wenner. “It turned out he was right.”

I have my own story on Jobs and Wenner. When I interviewed the co-founder of Apple about the next Macintosh computer for rolling stone, Jobs told me he lobbied to put the Mac team on the cover, a request Wenner denied. “Jan made a mistake!” Jobs told me. When I told Wenner about it this week, the autobiographer said, “God, I wish I remembered it, I would have put it in the book!” (One of Norman Seeff’s photos taken for my 1984 story eventually became a rolling stone cover, 27 years later, when Jobs died.)

Wenner’s take on technology these days is colored by his rage over how the net has killed off the traditional magazine business model. In his book, he speaks of the Internet as “a vampire with several hundred million unattached tentacles, the ubiquitous iPhone”. He wants it regulated. “I think internet actors have literally stolen all the intellectual property from the world of magazine journalism, without compensation of any kind,” he says. “They repackaged it, gave it away to consumers for free, and sold it to advertisers at cheaper rates. It was cold-blooded, it was sterile, and it was devastating. We remained dead on the ground.

On the other hand, he loves streaming. “Music is everywhere,” he says. “I listen to it on my Sonos system, anything, anytime. Incredibly awesome.

Despite her reservations about the internet age, Wenner admits that starting a tech magazine might not have been the worst idea. But the combination of his lack of interest in the subject and his company’s extensive list of other titles stood in the way. “I guess I didn’t have the bandwidth or the time or the interest at the time. We had started Outside,” he says. “I really didn’t think we could put out another magazine. I wish we had.

Wenner did, however, have the chance to play a part in a startup tech publication. He told me that WIRED co-founders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe once approached him about being a minority owner in what they often called the rolling stone of technology. Wenner returned to his hometown of San Francisco and visited the WIRED offices, one block from rolling stonethe old headquarters. “It was exactly the same, everything except the computers,” he says. But he succeeded, partly because he thought there might be a clash in philosophy. Instead of just focusing on journalism, Wenner thought WIRED should be more of a product-centric magazine, like the Ziff-Davis publication. PC Magazine. “I felt more publicity would come with it,” he says. (Metcalfe confirms the visit. “He commented on how tall everyone was and that the people in his office were short,” she says.)

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