~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Once There Were Giants

Over at the website MotorcycleUSA.com, Mark Gardner holds forth on the state of traditional motorcycle magazines and the possible rise of boutique motorcycle magazines to at least partly take their place.  His article is here:  Backmarker: Return of MC Print?

I think the whole article, which I found interesting but overly hopeful in terms of the magazines, comes  down to "Readers divided their time between print and new media, and the Internet fed their desire for news on a daily or even hourly basis."

The readership pie is getting cut into smaller and smaller pieces.  With nearly unlimited choices of motorcycle reading sources the readership is fragmented so much that all that's left is market niches.  Traditional print magazines will shrink until they fill whatever niche is theirs -- probably made up of people who like something to read while sitting on the toilet.

Those new, fancy, premium, printed motorcycle magazines (aping Robb Report or Art Doll Quartely) will get their niche, too, with minuscule circulation numbers but perhaps sufficient to give their publishers hope.   I do admire those who are so passionate about bikes and writing that they bet a lot of money on the success of their own print media venture.  As the national population grows, and if motorcyclists grow in number also, each niche may get big enough to support it's content providers in some reasonable fashion.  The days of huge circulation numbers like Cycle or Cycle World once enjoyed could return but only if their niche grows.

More likely though is that the niche markets will simply subdivide further.  Instead of one magazine about hipsters riding bobbers you'll have two, one for hipsters riding bobbers and one for gay hipsters riding bobbers. 

The good news for a select few is that all those sources will need writers and photography so someone who is a talented freelancer may be able to make a living as the publishers, new media and print, watch their enthusiasm and capital drain away.  Entrepreneurship is hard. Sometimes even the fittest don't survive.

What has disappeared and will stay disappeared because of market fragmentation is concentrated influence.   The old magazines, the big ones, loved their influence and it's ability to sway the market or even a bike  manufacturer, and that influence was prized by the publishers and editors for it's ability to draw advertisers and also feed egos.   To be embraced by Cycle World publisher Joe Parkhurst or panned by Cycle Magazine editor Cook Nielsen meant something.  To be loved or hated by "Bike Trend of the Moment Quarterly" means little to nothing to the wider audience.

To have influence takes sheer numbers of readers who can be influenced and no one content provider, print or new media, will get enough of everyone's attention long enough to be as influential as print magazines were in ye olden days.   The attention of motorcyclists is scattered everywhere now and their attention span is measured in seconds, not hours.

Print advertisers are actually feeding the problem too.  These days the ads are not designed to sell a product, they are designed to get you to put down the magazine and go to the manufacturer's website where they will sell you the product or help you find the dealer.  Putting down the magazine is part of the process.  Go to MotorcycleUSA.com or any other well constructed website and when you click on an advertisement it will open in a new browser tab while the old tab stays on the first site.  That's not an accident.  Advertising is a necessity but they don't want you to leave their site entirely.

Personally, I don't see a bright, profitable future for printed motorcycle magazines,  I believe they will come and go for years yet and a one or two general interest magazines like Cycle World or Motorcyclist may endure.  I am glad that old print will not entirely go away in my lifetime, sitting on the can with a good motorcycle magazine is one of life's little joys.


Geoff James said...

A really thoughtful piece of writing Doug. Because NZ only has a population of 4.5 million, our 2 principal motorcycle magazines are forced to cover a bit of everything for the very reasons you mention. I find the variety far more enjoyable than specialist bike publications.

BTW, your "can" must have a better air extraction system than ours if you voluntarily spend more time in it than required for the primary function :-)

Trobairitz said...

Ahhh the little things in life. Every 'can' needs a magazine rack.

In the days before the interweb there were so many different magazines and I agree that the market and consumers and what they like to read has definitely changed. It will be interesting to see how print media evolves from here.

I suppose it is a little like radio and CDs vs iTunes.

Greybeard said...

Great post.
I now subscribe to "Cycle World" and "Motorcycle Classics". A friend subscribes to "Cafe Racer", and we share 'em.

I think most of us like the feel of a magazine. And the throne room MUST have a set of special-interest magazines.
But publishers are in a fix...
Fewer and fewer people have the time (discipline?) to read these days. (Look how dead-tree media is dying.)
I hope those publishers can cut costs and convince advertisers to help keep our magazines coming.
A computer balanced on naked thighs isn't my idea of comfort.

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