Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Would You Pay For This?

A snip of a Facebook advertisement for "Beta" magazine.
 In 2006 or so, I was invited to go to a Gary Fisher/Trek press camp as part of "", the 29"er MTB site I used to write for and was editor for a time. Back then, the owner, Tim, took me and we both attended this press camp as the only purely internet based writers in attendance. 

The rest of the room at this presentation was filled with print magazine editors and writers. People you've probably read, and people whose names you'd recognize yet today as being 'big time' journos. 

When the presentation was over, and one of those big-timers turned to Tim, my partner, and asked us when we'd be getting the story out to our audience. Tim smugly replied, "We already have it up.", as he turned his laptop around to show this man and a few others our website story which he wrote in real time during the presentation. 

This occurrence, to my mind, was the turning point. It was when web based news started to overtake traditional print media, eventually disrupting that industry to the point that many print magazines, newspapers, and periodicals went by the wayside. No longer would audiences be satisfied to have to wait on news. Not when it could be had instantaneously, or nearly so. Furthermore, 'news' was democratized to the point that when social media took a hold, everyone with a smart phone became a news gatherer/story teller. No longer would the world have a defined set of professionals whose dissemination of information was somewhat reliable. 'The News' basically became The Wild, Wild West. You probably get that by now......

I say all this because recently a new publication, online only, as far as I know, dubbed "Beta", rose from the ashes of "Bike" magazine, and hit the ground with a very controversial introductory post which drew the ire of many in the cycling journo ranks. Basically, it was very tone-deaf to current social issues and was steeped in misogynistic bike culture from yore. (Some would say it persists yet today, and I ain't arguing that point.) An apology was posted, and so I am not going to tread that ground here. Besides, that's not the real point.

The thing about "Beta", besides a weird name that does not evoke mountain biking at all to me, is that most of their content is behind a paywall. (Means ya gotta pay ta see it, dig?) I get that in these times you might want a paywall, because so much information is free, that writers have a difficult time getting paid for anything they create as content these days. And by 'writers' I mean anyone pounding a keyboard with regularity that has access to a working internet connection. Including me, by the way.

Now for context, I do subscribe to a site with a paywall called "The Athletic", which is where I followed one of my favorite NASCAR writers when that site hired him. My experience has been that one; I paid far too much since "The Athletic" regularly runs super-discounted subscriptions and I paid full boat. Secondly, that site often puts articles outside the paywall for general views and you never know which articles are what- pay or free- so it seems a bit cheap to do that to your subscribers. Thirdly, due to the previous point, I don't feel I am getting much value for my subscription, and I can get nearly identical coverage for free from outside that site.

So, this begs a question: Why pay for information I can get for free? Sure, there may be some exclusives given to "Beta" by different companies introducing new things, but typically, those are spread around to several outlets, so at some point you are going to be able to skirt that paywall easily. And of course, there is nothing to stop a paying reader to be the one to squawk on social media to gain some 'cred-likes' from their so-called 'friends' roster. And at that point, the cat is outta the bag anyway. 

Maybe you get some creativity and awesome imagery, or maybe you get access to things, or gifts, like what some folks get on Patreon for being supporters to a company, person, or whatever. Maybe the writers at "Beta" are so compelling and talented that I would just have to see what they are writing for fear of missing out. Maybe.... "Beta's" Editor in Chief, Nicole Formosa, was quoted in a recent article online posted by "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" where she addresses this point, "My team is tasked with a mandate to create dynamic content and introduce a variety of services and experiences — both virtual and in-person — that create value for POM's (Pocket Outdoor Media, the parent company of "Beta") Active Pass membership. To that end, our site is launching with a mix of high-impact video, beautiful photography, in-depth gear reviews (including the first video from our annual buyers' guide, The Beta Tests) and the kind of storytelling that will separate us from the competition."

Again- this doesn't seem compelling enough to my mind to pay for non-print info that isn't really anything different than I can get anywhere else, many times from "Beta's" own peers.  In my opinion, this is going to be a big climb. Can they make it?

Hmm.... Maybe someone can convince me otherwise, but I'd say that at this point, I'm not very convinced this will work.


Nooge said...

Regarding the paywall, that only seems to work when you have truly exclusive content and as you said that’s very difficult to achieve in this industry. Especially as any juicy tidbits will then get summarized and conveyed by others in free articles. The only content that I really see working is storytelling, where the art is in the full piece, like telling of an epic journey. You can summarize a great novel’s plot but that summary has none of the value of the full novel.

Regarding the introductory article for Beta (posted to Velonews), it was offensive from the first line and got no better. The fact that they put that forward as their first impression tells me everything I need to know that I have zero interest in Beta. Plus the apology had all the signs of someone that has been told to apologize, but hasn’t really learned the lesson and hasn’t become a better person.

eBikeADV said...

Kinda related, but I am more than happy to pay $32 (including shipping) for a quarterly-ish magazine called Far Ride. It's pretty amazing and is the sort of thing I just take my time to read. No scanning through like most online articles. I think it's got plenty of value and they clearly don't rush it. Maybe that I paid so much for it means I also am inclined to get my money's worth and absorb it all, too, haha!

Guitar Ted said...

@Nooge - I agree here. Also, the intro >> apology thing I also feel is contrived and doesn't address the "why" it happened in the first place. Obviously someone wrote it (ingrained culture mindset) and an editor approved it (complicity) and after the apology there is no consequences for these decisions? i don't buy it. It seems very disingenuous at best and a very purposefully crafted way to get a LOT of attention for a new media launch at worst. (Remember- negative or positive- attention is attention)

I, like you, was totally done with this site the minute I read the first paragraph of the intro. Unless they show some form of change by way of education for the staff members or by removing those who are entrenched in those thoughts expressed, then I am not interested in reading that site. I would expect the site to be infused with this attitude if there is no actionable measures reflecting some consequences for this behavior.

I leave them with a chance to make things right, but at this point, I don't see it happening.

Guitar Ted said...

@ eBikeADV - No, I think I understand where you are coming from. I also subscribe to a fairly pricey magazine called "The Fretboard Journal". It comes out haphazardly throughout the year and is really a very small, but high quality outfit that focuses on something I really am passionate about.

I get to, as you say, take my time with it. I get to hold something in my hands, something tangible that I can grab at anytime and have a very different experience with than I can with a digitized source. Maybe its the high price of admission, as you say, maybe I'm just "old", or maybe there is really something to having "analog reading materials" which cannot be reproduced digitally.

I mean, try reading "Beta" when the power goes down, right? ;>)

Anon said...

I, too, agree with the above regarding Beta. I recognize that they were joking, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. As someone that started with BMX in the late 70s, got a road bike in the early 80s, a MTB in the mid/late 80s, and has been involved with a variety of cycling most of my life, I felt like the article was talking down to me. If I'm honest, I felt like it was talking down to someone (me) who had been doing their thing longer than they had. This shouldn't matter, as they should not try to make anyone feel slighted for their manner of cycling, but that was my gut feeling. I certainly would not pay for any of their "content." Oh, and I also subscribe to Fretboard Journal. Great publication.

S.Fuller said...

I subscribe to a few publications, but they are either mostly print, like Bicycle Quarterly, or I get a print publication and my money also goes to something else ( & Bikepacking Journal). I am also a patreon/supporter for one or two online video content creators (PathLessPedaled and DKlein). A web only site with a paywall would have to have some extremely compelling content for me to pay for it.