The Approach: Put it all out there. Wired doesn't bother to distinguish between gift types or giftee types, preferring to number its offerings 1 through 100. Concise (and cogent) descriptions accompany each item, and the editors enliven the list by using this very public platform to send none-too-subtle hints. ("Hey! Husband! Pony up and spot me these crazy riding boots," commands Story Editor Sarah Fallon about a pair of Tretorn Falsterbos, $650.)
High: Wiredopens with a bang:Item No. 1, a custom hardwood-and-glass PC, costs $16,500. If there are any still-liquid dot-com millionaires left on earth, they probably appreciate the hat tip. The guide rarely ascends quite that high again. In comparison, the $7,500 McIntosh MXA60 shelf stereo seems positively middle-class.
Low: The cheap selections feel, by necessity perhaps, a little dryer than the expensive ones, but if anyone is capable of getting excited about an electronic-notepad-cum-mousepad ($15) or a set of 26 magnetized spheres ($30), it's probably the Wired crowd.
The Verdict: This guide likely won't suffice for everyone on your list, but you'll find just the right thing for the microchip aficionado in your life. The writers do a particularly good job of explaining why exactly every item they've selected is cool, even if lay-readers may need a glossary for some of the more cryptic tech specs. (If you don't know your ISO light sensitivity from your output waveforms, you may need to consult Wikipedia.) Nevertheless, you'll appreciate being in the know—and all the more likely to pardon the occasional marital TMI.
[Disclosure: I work for Condé Nast, which owns Wired.]
New York, Nov. 23, 2009, Issue
The Pitch: "Our annual anxiety-relieving guide to matching the perfect gift with delighted giftee, including 100 gifts under $100 that outperform their price tag …"
Target Audience: Creative-class midlevels who moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn to be cooler; creative-class midlevels who moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan to go against the tide (i.e., to be cooler).
The Approach: Gifts by price (100 under $100), by neighborhood (complete with maps), and gifts by request from real, live New Yorkers. The "You Ask, We Find" section turns dreams into realities—on the page, at least. Photogenic urbanites make their pleas—ranging from dance lessons for a ginger-haired filmmaker to Fanta-orange headphones for a video game director—which are then dutifully scouted and photographed (but not actually purchased). Of course, a few New Yorkers' motives are dubious. Does dentist Barry Cutright really want a Harry & David fruitcake, or is he trying to goose some post-holiday cavity business?
High: A stainless-steel Rolex Daytona ($14,250), which, in all fairness, is the explicit request of real-life trader Scott Kaplow, 23, who'd like either that or his ex-girlfriend back. Maybe she'll return for the Valentine's Day issue.
Low: We get it: These are thrifty times. But even the most venturesome editor is going to have a hard time making an under-$5 gift look like anything but an under-$5 gift. We don't want to be around when that special someone finds a Yummy Breakfast key-chain ($4.95), a ballpoint pen ($1.95), or a decorative pack of tissues ($1.49) in her stocking. These are the sorts of gifts that say, I care just enough to say Gesundheit.
The Verdict: For breadth and depth, New York is the gold standard. It skews a little heavy on the tchotchkes, but there's no finicky friend or family member it can't appease. Get ready to squint at some very tiny photos, though; volume does have its downside. In a magazine, that is. Under the tree, it's a cardinal virtue.