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Why Jann Wenner Let WIRED Start the ‘Rolling Stone’ of Tech

Why Jann Wenner Let WIRED Start the 'Rolling Stone' of Tech

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 fields—but the two never really hit it off. “We had a conventional occupational disagreement about the future of print,” Wenner says. “He turned out to be right.”

I have my own story about Jobs and Wenner. When I interviewed Apple’s cofounder about the upcoming Macintosh computer for Rolling Stone, Jobs told me he’d been lobbying to put the Mac team on the cover, a demand Wenner rejected. “Jann is making a mistake!” Jobs said to me. When I brought this up to Wenner this week, the autobiographer said, “God I wish I had remembered that—I’d have put it in the book!” (One of the Norman Seeff pictures taken for my 1984 story eventually did become a Rolling Stone cover, 27 years later, when Jobs died.)

Wenner’s view of technology these days is colored by his rage about how the net has killed the traditional magazine business model. In his book, he talks of the internet as “a vampire with several hundred million untethered tentacles, the ubiquitous iPhone.” He wants it regulated. “I think the internet players literally stole all the intellectual property of the magazine journalism world, without compensation of any kind,” he says. “They repackaged it, gave it away free to consumers and sold it to advertisers at cheaper rates. It was cold-blooded, it was sterile, and it was devastating. We were left on the floor dead.”

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

Despite his reservations about the internet age, Wenner concedes 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 full roster of other titles ruled against it. “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 feel we could put out another magazine. I wish we had done it.”

Wenner did have his chance to play a role in a startup tech publication, though. He told me that WIRED cofounders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe once approached him about being a minority owner in what they often referred to as the Rolling Stone of tech. Wenner flew back to his hometown of San Francisco and visited the WIRED offices, just a block away from Rolling Stone’s former headquarters. “It looked exactly the same—everything except for the computers,” he says. But he passed, in part because he felt there might be a clash in philosophy. Instead of concentrating just on journalism, Wenner thought WIRED should be more of a product-centric magazine, like the Ziff-Davis publication PC Magazine. “I felt that more advertising would come with it,” he says. (Metcalfe confirms the visit. “He commented on how tall everyone was and that people in his office were short,” she says.)

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Written by Jason Flair

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