Designing Media - Chris Anderson

This is the fifth in a series of posts about my new book, Designing Media

Chris Anderson, November 2008

I interviewed Chris Anderson in the offices of Wired magazine in San Francisco. He had taken the job of Editor in Chief just before the crash in 2001, so he was faced with hard choices about the future of the magazine. He bet on the idea that the bursting of the dot-com bubble was about the stock market rather than the underlying technologies, and he designed Wired magazine to become a mainstream publication. He has been proved right, as many of the crash survivors have emerged as dominant new media providers, and Wired magazine continues to expand as it explains how technology is changing the world.

The first edition of Wired, March 1993

Chris is confident that the magazine format is here to stay, as long as it makes the most of the unique attributes of magazine design, energetically pursuing luscious images, diagrams, and illustrations, with dramatic layout and rich production values. He thinks that everybody’s job in the information world is to add value to the Web, as the “Web is the water we swim in,” but that the design of online material should be different from print, bringing amateur energy into the domain and leveraging the interactive elements to vote, dialogue, and aggregate. In his heart he wants to celebrate the possibilities offered by the Internet to serve individual needs and desires in niches of focused interest.

Free by Chris Anderson

His recent book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, was written during 2008 and launched soon after this interview. He is sensitive to the irony of the clash between his content and the traditional medium of book publishing. There are many ironies in my life. One of them is having coined the term long tail and described the phenomenon, as it has become our worst enemy, because we are the short head. I work for Condé Nast, one of America’s biggest magazine publishers, and my book is published by Disney. I’m in the blockbuster business by day, and by night I celebrate the rise of the niche. I’m in a mass, top-down, one-to-many business, which pays my rent. And yet what excites me is just the opposite. As the marginal cost of bits is close enough to zero to round down, Chris sees “free” as a form of marketing to sell something that is not free. In the case of books, those who value traditional book attributes can upgrade to the premium version and pay the price for the superior form. The old idea of free samples is thus inverted: offering free access to everyone attracts the small number who take delight in the premium version and are willing to pay for it.