What the Growing Wired Empire Can Teach You About Identifying Niches

Tadeusz Szewczyk
by Tadeusz Szewczyk | Last Updated May. 6th, 2015 0 COMMENTS


Recently I have been enjoying the new issue of Wired Germany very much. Wired is now almost a monthly publication here in Germany (10 issues a year) after a start as a quarterly a while back.

Intriguingly the German market for tech oriented “lifestyle” publications didn’t seem that lucrative

before for the locals. How come Wired expanded to Germany, the fifth market after the US/UK, Italy and Japan then?


The envied Americans

I always envied the US for their progressive technology press. By press I do not only mean online publications but real life magazines made out of paper. At a time when Germany was flooded by articles on how the Internet is scary, dangerous and a menace to society Americans already had Wired Magazine extolling the new virtues of online freedom and prosperity.

Even though there has been a lot of turmoil in the Wired Magazine history and some failures along the way by now the Wired brand seems to be stronger than ever and expanding globally.

While the US, UK and Japan may seem like very obvious markets for such a publication it nonetheless intriguing to see that Italy and Germany seem to be the next logical stops as the path to the “techno-utopia” the mag initially stood for. The Japanese are infamous for their technological geekery. Italians are rather known for high fashion designer clothes. Most German technology brands that thrived in the past, the likes of

  • Grundig
  • Dual
  • Telefunken
  • AEG

are only shadows of their glorious past. There is no real consumer electronics sectors run by locals here. It’s all Made in China now. Only South Korea can compete.


Why Germany not France or Spain?

Take note that there is no Spanish or French Wired magazine despite huge potential audiences. Spanish is not only spoken in Spain by its 40 million inhabitants. Most of South America and even a large minority in the US speak it.

French is not only spoken in France but also in half of Africa, especially in northern African countries, most known for their recent democratic movements that were very Internet-savvy. Also Conde Nast,

the owner of Wired has a large portfolio of magazines in France, mostly focusing on lifestyle and fashion though.

In Germany we had two more or less failed attempts at creating a technology lifestyle magazine. We had Tomorrow for a few years, a copycat mag that tried to imitate the US Wired without having the same type of audience here in Germany (there is no Silicon Valley equivalent here). We also had DE:BUG magazine, a print mag focused on all things electronic including a big part of the music scene.


Is there a German audience or not?

Tomorrow had to give up a few years ago, I think in 2009. Shortly before they went out of business they became desperate and even started adding images of naked models to the last few issues. Sadly the much better and independent DE:BUG magazine (full disclosure: I have contributed a few articles to it in the distant past) had to stop publishing the print issue in 2014 too.

The reasons for failure were not the same but in both cases the audience increasingly went online, especially the musicians who could access music right away instead of reading reviews of it offline.

So you have to ask yourself: is there still a German audience for a progressive technology magazine that doesn’t only deal with nerdy topics but also attempts to cover a wider range of aspects of technological progress?

We have a lot of computer magazines dealing with hardware, software, even web development or marketing. There is no real digital culture mag as of now. Well, now there is one again. Wired Germany. So you could argue that now that there is no competition left anymore it’s the best time to enter the empty market again.


Nobody wears shoes in Africa

There is an old joke from Poland I have to think of in this context. I’d like to adapt it to the new context:

two shoe marketers visit a newly established country somewhere in Africa, a pessimist and an optimist. The pessimist calls right back home and says “nobody is wearing shoes here, we can’t sell anything!”. The optimist is still in awe and calls in second: “Amazing! Nobody is wearing shoes here yet, we can sell them to everybody!”

Dear African friends: I know people from Africa and I know they wear shoes in most cases. Some don’t because they don’t want to or don’t have to as it’s sometimes too hot in Africa.There are also Westerners who don’t wear shoes either in order to keep their feet healthy (most shoes are bad for your feet hence there are barefoot shoes by now).

This joke is not meant to discredit Africans as primitive or something. It’s a great metaphor on how people in the West (and elsewhere too I guess) can look at the same thing and see two completely different things depending on their personal attitude.


The one year long test

Conde Nast has tested Wired Germany with a quarterly publication first. After four issues, which mostly very pretty good, prepared by ad hoc teams and freelancers the publishers finally got the results they wanted and decided to establish a whole new team and invest money and effort into making a monthly mag, organizing events, and offering an online subscription while still offering most of them content online for free (at first?).

So what can we learn from all this? Do you have to move to Germany or at least expand your business there? Not really. I’d like to generalize the lessons I have learned from this niche market identification process:

  1. an empty market is a good market – few or no competition is better than successful competition
  2. testing the waters yourself is better than just looking at other people’s failures
  3. expanding a niche to become almost general interest can be a good idea
  4. you need a substantial investment to enter a niche market not just copy and paste
  5. using an internationally acknowledged brand name is better than coming up with a generic or cryptic title
  6. print is not dead in general, it’s just some business models that go down the drain
  7. the digital audience grows with the Internet so you can tap into it, even “offline”