Saturday, November 19, 2022

Like And Subscribe: Do You Really Want Print Media?

Back when print was still a thing: Article from "Dirt Rag"
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

I'm old enough to remember when getting the latest "Mountain Bike Action" in the mail , or when seeing the latest edition of  "Dirt Rag" in the bike shop was the definition of a great day. Print media had no real 'predators' in the realm of information and creative writing for cycling. 

There were no online forums, no social media, no You Tubers spewing a video out every other day to keep their content "fresh". Because let's face it folks, today it is all about content. Realize that this content doesn't have to be good. It just has to be mostly free and coming at you like water out of a back yard garden hose. 

So, how did we get here? Well, I gave you a snapshot in the previous paragraph, but let me give you another glimpse into when the paradigm shifted. I just happened to have been there. 

It was my first trip to Sea Otter in 2007 with the "Crooked Cog Network", a self-titled, self-aggrandized "media" group consisting of several blogs. The newfound power of the internet and online streaming of content almost as soon as it was created was just getting going. This happened to upset the apple cart in a very visible and tangible way at the Trek/Fisher Press Camp we were invited to in Santa Cruz, California. 

Up to this point, press camps were the realm of "traditional print media". Remember, they had no "natural predators", but now with forums like growing by leaps and bounds over the previous 5+ years, traditional print media was facing new competition- a predator had arrived which was eating into their normal way of doing things.

Rumors and industry chit-chat was freely shared across digital devices, mostly PC's at that point, and you didn't have to wait a month for the news, like you did with print media. An evening scouring the forums yielded more than enough news to make print look lame, and you could dig into it every day, if you wanted to. "Fresh" content was what the masses craved, and while forums were cool, and all that, there was now a new presence on the scene- real-time bloggers. 

Images and info straight from the show floor to your PC- all in a day's work

The Trek/Fisher marketing guys held a meeting to go over all the new bikes and tech for 2007. In the first two rows were all the heavy-hitters in the print media world at that time. James Huang, the "Angry Asian" was there. Editors from "Velo News", "Dirt Rag", and other prominent print media were there. "Real" websites were represented as well. But us bloggers? We were at the back. Sneered at by the front row, and mostly they wouldn't even speak to us. 

Crooked Cog Network founder Tim Grahl set up his MacBook lap top, a camera, and a line out to the internet. As the presentation was given, Tim screen-shot each image shown on the screen at the front of the room, wrote a few lines quickly to accompany the image, and boom! Posted to the site we were pushing content to. I was flat out amazed. I'd not even imagined such a thing in 2007. 

When the presentation was over, the lead spokesperson for Trek/Fisher, Travis Ott, said that he would allow a bit of time to let the media get their notes in order before we moved on and hoped that stories would be published "soon". That's when Grahl piped up next to me and said. "We've already got the story up on our site". I'll never forget the half disgusted, half amazed look James Huang shot him as he jerked around to see who was speaking. 

Print media was doomed after that point, in my mind, because the masses became ravenous for constantly changing "fresh content" and online purveyors of information were only too glad to give it up for free. No subscribing to a periodical. No waiting a month to see what's new. You could see what was new minute-by-minute. Literally.

That's how we got here. Instant upload to the internet, everyone has a computer/receiver in their hands now, and content gets pushed without ceasing, 24-7 these days. How does a print based ideal even compete? It cannot do what it used to do, and to my way of thinking, traditional media has missed the boat. The traditional cycling media seems bent on trying to replicate the analog days of print media digitally, and from advertisers to content consumers, that is a dinosaur that died a long time ago. 

Companies use social media to promote product now.

 So, Outside kicked several Cyclingtips and Velo News creatives to the curb the other day. It's a hard reality for media who try to make a living creating content in long form for websites. Ad dollars are scarce to non-existent. Companies that once spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in print/website based advertising now have "influencers", Instagram stories, and sponsored content. Their own media content is self-created for these brand's social media and You Tube channels. Companies and brands have "marketing firms" that get product out to independent reviewers and niche websites (Like myself) and target audiences instead of the old ad in a magazine that might not ever get seen by a core customer of a brand.

Pre-packaged content is offered all the time to me to post on my blog and on I must get offers to post "sponsored articles" daily. I just deleted another offer for a "guest blog post". Seriously. It's like pulling weeds, these guest post offers. They just keep popping up everywhere. I have never looked into any of these offers, but I am sure they come with click-through ads so the guest poster can make a few pennies.

But do we still need a magazine? Do we need to have any form of print media? If not, do we need a web based site that isn't in the traditional vein? Could that even be supported enough to pay a living wage to a creator these days? 

That's a tough nut to crack as well. Think about myself and the old story from Sea Otter I posted above. I was a part of the dismantling of traditional media, in a way, and for 17+ years I've blogged here, at no cost to you, nearly daily, spewing fresh content at ya like water from a back yard garden hose . So who am I to pontificate on this media meltdown? 

Well, it isn't just me. It is "everyone", really. It used to be that there were journalists and then everyone else that read what journalists wrote. Now days anyone can post any "news" they want on several platforms. Usually consumable for free.   I mean, "why not me" when it comes to being an expert on issues? That seems to be the big problem with anyone trying to make a buck now writing. Since the writer's craft, talents, and professionalism mean little more than the average person's opinions these days, it's harder to get any value out of a traditional media product. Add in to that most "truth" is broadcast for "entertainment value" and this problem is even harder to tackle. 

Getting a print/digital magazine thing going is possible, I think, but it cannot be anything like the previous offerings and it cannot be corporately owned. It probably would be best if the publication was very niche, stayed smaller rather than bigger, and catered to an audience that craved having stories told to them. You're probably never going to see a wide-ranging, racer focused, gear focused, review type publication make it on a national scale anymore since that sort of publication needs a LOT of cabbage to keep the doors open. A low-overhead operation? I think that type of curated, simple, focused approach is best these days.

But like I said, I'm just one of those hacks in the back row. What do I know?


Ben said...

Yeah, I hope print format with a story-telling adventure type focus can survive. Made me think and I guess I've come a little bit full circle. Five years ago or so, I had no print media subscriptions, and now when I think about it, I have three now - mostly as you said, kind of smaller, niche type publications (Silent Sports, Adventure Cyclist, and Iowa Outdoors). I think part of that reason is they are more story-focused, longer articles, and maybe with age I seem to have a little more eye strain / dislike of looking at the computer screen for longer articles. There's something about throwing one of those magazines in my bag for a bit of reading on a camping trip / weekend getaway, etc. that can't quite be replicated by looking at a screen for the article, but to each their own I guess...

Phillip Cowan said...

I guess if you're looking for the Great White Hope of print bicycle magazines it's going to be something along the lines of "Bicycle Quarterly" which is basically subscriber supported with very limited advertising. The coffee table format with glossy photos and very in depth articles is something the internet can't quite offer. The lack of advertising removes the feeling that someone is trying to sell you something. People have become pretty hip about knowing when they're being schmoozed foe a sale. I've heard it said that free advice is worth what you paid for it. I think that may apply to bike blogs too, present company excepted of course, lol. I do appreciate your "keep it real" approach and I do read your blog just about every day.