After Red Herring sank into the dot-com morass last year, Tony Perkins considered resurrecting the magazine that helped establish him as a Silicon Valley sage. He changed his mind when his college-age daughter scoffed and told him "Red Herring is so 1990s."
So Perkins' return to the high-tech publishing scene will be more narrow and perhaps more risky for that. The new venture, AlwaysOn, will bring one of the Internet's hottest trends -- Web logging, or "blogging" -- to print.
The quarterly magazine, scheduled to debut early next year, will draw heavily from material that has already appeared online at www.alwayson-network.com -- a technology-focused blogging community that Perkins created after Red Herring's collapse.
About half the so-called "blogozine" will be devoted to the most provocative posts on his Web site, like a recent debate about whether a new computer video game re-creating the assassination of John Kennedy should be rated more obscene than online pornography.
The rest of the magazine will feature longer articles about technology's future and interviews with the likes of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina.
Perkins, 46, hopes to make money through a combination of advertising and an annual $49 subscription that delivers copies of the blogozine and special privileges at the AlwaysOn Web site.
'Open-source media' or bad idea?
Even before the blogozine hits the newsstand, Perkins is aggressively promoting it as a breakthrough development in "open-source media."
"It makes my heart go pitter patter when I think about it," Perkins said during a recent interview. "I really think this is where the media is going to go in the future."
Others aren't so certain.
Jason Pontin, Red Herring's editor during the San Francisco-based magazine's heyday, is among the skeptics, although he still praises his former boss as "a very brilliant man, a beloved figure in Silicon Valley and an extraordinary self-promoter."
Pontin has serious doubts about whether the raw, openly biased observations that attract loyal followings to the online "blogosphere" will fare as well in the more circumspect realm of magazines, where full-time reporters routinely spend weeks researching stories and then submit their findings to rigorous fact checking.
"The blogosphere doesn't have the capacity to produce analytical, well-researched journalism," said Pontin, now editor in chief of Technology Review, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's monthly magazine. "If you believe there are enough people interested in reading a magazine devoted to bunch of insiders writing with great jubilation about the importance of their own community, then Tony's approach could be quite effective."
Magazine industry expert Samir Husni says the odds are stacked against Perkins, citing the failed attempts of other popular Web sites that have tried to repackage their online content into magazines, such as Travelocity, Expedia and Slate.
"If his idea is so good, you have to wonder why no one else has been able to do it successfully," Husni said.
Venture capitalist Tim Draper -- a former investor in Red Herring -- is among the Silicon Valley cognoscenti who say they can't wait to see Perkins's latest brainchild. "It's a great idea," said Draper, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson in Menlo Park. "Tony has a really good feel for this market. He always seems to 'get it' before the rest of us get it."
Lessons from Red Herring
After starting out as a banker, Perkins emerged as a publishing pioneer in the 1990s by launching two magazines, Upside and Red Herring, with a zealous focus on high technology.
Perkins spent a short time at Upside before departing to start Red Herring -- adopting the same name used by investment bankers to describe the prospectus for an initial public offering of stock.
While much of the mainstream media brushed off Red Herring as little more than a publishing sideshow for geeks, the magazine steadily grew then became red hot during the dot-com craze of the late 1990s as high-tech companies filled the magazine with often outlandish advertising. One issue surpassed 600 pages and ad revenue in 2000 ballooned to $87 million, more than quadrupling from 1999.
But Red Herring slowly faded away after the advertising dried up in the dot-com bust. By the time Red Herring closed in 2003, Perkins had already sold his controlling interest in the holding company, although he remained a regular columnist.
A new publisher, Alex Vieux, recently reintroduced a slimmed down version of Red Herring -- a comeback attempt that holds little appeal for Perkins.
"I look at Red Herring now and don't have any emotional attachment at all, so I don't really care what happens to it," Perkins said.
Just a few months before high-tech stocks peaked in March 2000, Perkins and his brother, Michael, released "The Internet Bubble," a book that warned high-tech stocks were bound for a painful crash.
Although his prediction proved true, Perkins says he never envisioned the fallout from the high-tech meltdown would seep into so many other industries, including the media.
This time around, Perkins vows to keep his magazine small. Perkins plans to contain the debut edition of AlwaysOn to 54 pages, about half of it advertising. He'll distribute the first edition to about 100,000 readers, all but 5,000 or so for free.
To keep costs low, Perkins plans to run the new magazine as a virtual operation with no real headquarters and a minimal staff. The conservative approach has worked so far. Perkins says AlwaysOn became profitable within weeks after he started the Web site with $50,000 of his own money.
"This isn't going to become a $100 million company," Perkins said. "It's just a great media niche for an entrepreneur like myself. I am having more fun by many orders of magnitude than I have ever had before."