Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Musings On Media

I heard over the weekend that "Bike" magazine was shuttered by its parent company, reportedly to never see the light of day again. It's another in an ever growing list of niche publication shutdowns. "Dirt Rag" was shuttered last year, now this, and there have been others I am not remembering here. They have been saying 'print is dead" for years, and I suppose things like this latest shut-down are only stoking those thoughts. But like most things in life, it is never as simple as a cliche' and generally is a lot more nuanced than what you'd think. 

To be honest, I feel a bit responsible here. I mean, what I have been doing for the better part of fifteen years is what you normally would have only found in print, for a price, and never for free. You also would have only very limited access to content, since, well.....print takes a long time to produce. The format is akin home cooking- it's almost always better than fast food, but who has the time and the know-how to do it? Plus, we could be eating this now and that later without the hassles.  I have a new post every day. You didn't even get that with newspapers. Magazines? Yeah..... See ya in 28 days. Maybe more.

More is better, or so some think. 24-7 access is cool. Websites clamor to be 'first' with the latest news and reviews. Advertising was cheaper on digital media, (not sure about nowadays), and so brands and marketers went with the least expensive options. Then along came 'influencers' and brands found ways to get the word out about their stuff without fears of negative reviews and without having to pay advertising fees. Suddenly professional writers and photographers were out of jobs. Big corporate holding companies bought up floundering mag titles and liquidated, or outright shutdown everything but the bones of the operations. "Bike" reportedly had four employees at the time of its shutdown. Word was that COVID had something to do with it. Look for that 'excuse' to get well-worn as we approach 2021. 

Andy and I were bouncing ideas off each other regarding monetizing content for RidingGravel.com or on some other platform. I told him it would all hinge on an advertising revenue, or a direct subscription based format, like Patreon, but that it wuld be a hard road since most folks see what I do as being 'free' so why pay? Plus, when there are others in the same space doing everything free, how do you rise above and give value enough to the point that people would be willing to have monthly withdrawals on their credit card to support you? 

And the effort you would have to put in would be immense. That's really what it boils down to. If I am willing to go all in, quit my job, and sacrifice personal and family time, yeah....maybe then it would work. But that's a steep price to pay. In my mind, that's what it would take though. 

Also something else to consider is the unimaginable amount of information overload that is already at our fingertips. Do we really need more? It's kind of like gluttony, or pollution. All this information. Maybe we need to take the nearest exit off the super-highway and find a nice, quiet dirt road. 

But back to the print mags and "Bike" magazine in particular. I recall my friend Will Ritchie telling me that he left WTB to take an opportunity with "Bike" when it came up to him as an option several years ago. He told me it was his 'dream job', (an example of his work can be seen here), and then later corporate cuts left him on the outside looking in, and now the final death blow has seemingly been rendered. I cannot imagine the pain Will must feel over this, not to mention the rest of that crew's feelings. My heart goes out to those folks. 

Is print dead? Maybe. They said Kindle would kill the bookstores and books would be obsolete, yet the darn things are still being sold at book stores, of all things. Print magazines are also not "dead", but the traditional model isn't working either. In my wildest dreams I don't see magazines going away, but something has to change for the platform to work. And maybe that's going artisanal or bi-yearly, or some form of mixed media like YouTube and print. Hard to say. I do know that I support a guitar based publication called the "Fretboard Journal" by subscribing to their magazine and by listening to their podcasts. I also am a Patreon supporter of one of the podcasts. Maybe this is the way forward for print media. 

I don't have the answers, but one thing is for sure- media and how we consume it will be changing and ten years from now, who knows how it will look? I know that back fifteen years ago it sure looked a whole lot different than it does now. I've got a lot more to say about this subject, but that will have to wait for another day. These are just my jumbled thoughts on the subject as it relates to cycling. 

Thanks for reading.


teamdarb said...

Bike was a great mag! To me, the photos made it more NatGeo... about the places and people, not just product. It always amazed me they stocked that mag in the grocery store in southeast D.C. along with Dirt Rag, Bicycle Times and AdvRider. (for anyone who knows D.C., I am referring to the real south side across the river)

S.Fuller said...

It's definitely a tough time for media. There are very few print publications that I receive in the mail. Currently - Bicycle Quarterly, Adventure Cycling, and Bikepacking Journal. All are very focused on one subject, and none of them are published monthly. Quality over quantity is what gets my subscription money, although Adventure Cycling and Bikepacking Journal are membership perks.

Patreon can work as an income stream, but you need to have compelling free content to draw people in and then offer something extra for Patreon members. It would be a tough full time gig, and for video content, there's definitely a cost of entry for making high quality content.

I support two youtube channels via Patreon - Path Less Pedaled and James Hoffman, who is a coffee geek. I spend $10 a month between the two of them, and I feel the money is either supporting someone who is a full time content creator or it's going back into the channel to do things like purchase items for review. In the case of James Hoffman, many of the items he purchases for review are then randomly given to Patreon supporters via drawing.

TheLazyReconnoiter said...

Bike was great. Sorry to see it go.

I’ve wondered why micro-credit has never taken off as a way to pay for online content. There’s plenty of stuff I wouldn’t mind paying a couple nickels to read, but so far, zero things I’m willing to pay a monthly subscription fee to read.

As for print, I can see a future for the arty-glossy-quarterly as a way to drive people to your online content or to advertise a location. For example: bike and XC-ski places on Michigan’s U.P, getting together and putting out something with good stories and some really great photos.

TinyRVLife said...

I think a great example of physical print that I hope can stick around is Far Ride magazine. It's quarterly...I think. Super infrequent. They have ads inside. But it's really not about product AT ALL. It's all story telling. The huge photo spreads blow any instagram post out of the water. Really nice paper that the magazine is printed on as well. It's really an archival journal publication.

MuddyMatt said...

Tough times. I was just in a news store as it happens (happened to need something else) and I looked at the shelves, which were a mess and thought if I was looking for something, where would I start? And then, I just thought how MANY people have touched those items! Tough times AND a sign of the times.

Unless you subscribe, I just can't see what people get out of print. It caters now for impulse purchases, not make-a-date-must-pick-up-X-when-its-published purchases, like we used to do. Not only is online quicker, but in many ways its shown that a lot of journos are just people with an opinion, just like you and me.

For print to survive people need to want it; it needs to offer a culture that people buy into and that can't be found elsewhere. That's a tough sell because, well most of the time it CAN be found better, somewhere else.

Of greater concern to me is not so much print going - it's long-form writing going too. Considered writing. Everything appears to be being reduced to whatever can be shouted in 250 characters or less.

One thing I'd like to see is not more of what's 'out there'; I want to see more of what's local, and immediate, and human. Local riding for local people. Your site and mine both have both that as a backbone to expand from. I'm guessing you write for your friends and community first.

It doesn't preclude others - welcomes them in fact; but it's local and up, not general and down. Trouble is, a bubble like that is innocuous with bikes, but deadly with politics!

Coming full circle; I don't have an answer to print I'm afraid!

Nathaniel said...

I disagree that a Patreon, or any subscription, is about value, per se. I'm neither a gravel cyclists nor even an avid cyclists yet I appreciate your voice and read your blog regularly. Similarly, the two Patreon accounts I support are simply people I like to hear from. The value of such parasocial relationships is intangible, yet real to me.

I don't think I'm alone in finding your voice compelling and durable. The recently completed Trans Iowa Masters attempt speaks to that, as does the lasting influence of Trans Iowa itself.

Best of luck in your endeavors.

Stevenator said...

The only subscription I have is so I get access to "premium" content on the web. Popular Mechanics does a góod job of producing online content I enjoy, so I subscribe to it. The print magazine with the subscription is just a bonus