Clubbed

Your Humble Narrator working a race for VeloNews Back in the Day®, when subscription fees and advertising revenue were enough to make the nut.

Steve-O raises an interesting question:

Your thoughts (and everyone else’s) on Bicycling’s new $40/year membership model?

This seems to be the flavor of the month. VeloNews is doing something similar for $99 a year, along with most of its cousins in the Pocket Outdoor Media group.

It’s tough to get readers to pay for “content.” Most people who read a daily newspaper Back in the Day® had no idea that their subscriptions didn’t cover the cost of the ink on the newsprint, much less the tab for all the technology and people it took to make the blat land on the stoop every morning. For a reader, the daily paper was a cheap date, with the real cost borne by advertisers.

Advertising is a tough sell these days, for newspapers, magazines, and websites. So what’s left? “Memberships.”

The New York Times has had some success with digital subscriptions. Likewise The Wall Street Journal. Two real powerhouses that can serve up the goodies you can’t get anywhere else.

I see value in the NYT and The Washington Post, so I subscribe to both. I also subscribe to The Atlantic, and Charlie Pierce’s blog at Esquire. All of these outfits provide things I want and need. I wish there were some Flyover Country version of The Atlantic so I could subscribe to that too.

But when you get down to the enthusiast-publication level, the pitch for memberships gets a little tougher. What do Bicycling or VeloNews have that I want/need badly enough to pay for it?

I like reading Joe Lindsey and Andrew Hood. And I like them as people, too. But with all due respect, I’m not sure that I want to spend $150 a year with their employers. There’s a bunch of stuff in both magazines/websites that I couldn’t care less about. It would feel like signing up for cable TV. I pulled that plug back in 2006 and now we buy our TV a la carte.

Perhaps the biggest issue with hawking memberships, subscriptions, and advertising is the one that started cropping up toward the end of my freelancing career. I was fortunate to be earning steady, predictable money as a regular contributor to both VN and Bicycle Retailer. But there were lots of other hired guns who were starting to get ambushed by what we called “fans with keyboards.” People who’d work for chump change, a T-shirt, or even just the byline.

Today there are so many talented amateurs and semipros out there who are willing to create wonderful stuff for free, or for pennies, that paying for the pros — who so often find themselves consigned to following the dictates of some uninspired editor or an advertising-driven calendar of theme issues — can seem extravagant.

“OK, guys, time for the annual stationary-trainer roundup, the ‘How LeMond won using aero bars’ retrospective, and who’s doing this week’s ‘fitter/faster in 10 seconds a day’ piece?”

Everybody thinks they’re working hard, and that you should buy what they’re selling. Not everybody is right.

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19 Responses to “Clubbed”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    I get BuyCycling via my LAB membership, whether I want it or not. They have done a few pretty good issues lately with human interest stories that surprised me with their depth. So I suppose I don’t need to do anything to get this New Improved Version?

    I’ve noticed the quality of the local fish wrappers (New Mexican, Journal) is getting pretty spotty. The New Mexican has a lot of inexperienced journalists who just retype whatever some eejit tells them without any investigation, Daniel Chacon’s work notwithstanding. The Journal lost track of science reporting when John Fleck bailed out. We still subscribe to both, along with the WaPost, NYTimes, New Yorker, write checks to 3 NPR stations and PBS, and whatever magazines my more literary better half writes checks for.

    That said, I don’t feel like paying for something that seems amateurish and which has put good people out of work in favor of rank amateurs who work for t-shirts. If I want to see something truly amateurish, I’ll read my own blog.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Santa Fe and Albuquerque are unusual in that both towns have locally owned newspapers. You wanna see some shit, just wait until one or both surrenders to Gannett-GateHouse, Chatham Asset Management, or Alden Global Capital. Those dudes will go through ’em the way COVID-19 does a nursing home.

      I forgot to mention above that we likewise have underwritten a pair of NPR affiliates, KRCC in Bibleburg and KUNM here in the Duke City.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Oh, indeed. One reason we are loyal to the Journal and NewMex is that they are both locally owned and doing their best to survive in a dog eat dog market. Having had my own experience with robber baron owned newspapers, I couldn’t agree more.

        I think BuyCycling still has some connection to its roots as well although Rodale was bought out by Hearst, which at least has a history of journalism rather than pure vulture capitalism. I’ll have to check the masthead one of these days to see who survived the transition other than Bill Strickland.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        That’s where my money goes. Arizona Public Media which run the Tucson and SE Arizona PBS and NPR stations and translators. The local paper is struggling, but the content is so lousy I can’t convince myself to support them, yet. They are owned by a company that owns many small local newspapers all over the West and Midwest.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Lee Enterprises. I see that they also own the Buffalo News.

        • Pat O’Brien Says:

          I think it is Wick Communications that owns the Sierra Vista Herald Review.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          If memory serves, The Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen were Pulitzer and Gannett, respectively, when I was there. They shared a building and non-newsroom staff under a joint operating agreement, which was a popular arrangement back then.

          Didn’t save the Citizen, though. It got croaked and somehow Lee wound up with the Star. They have the Sun up in Flag’, too. I worked for Lee in Oregon and they were mildly fascist, but then again, who isn’t?

          Now that the Corvallis Gazette-Times is all bundled up with some clusterfuck called the Mid-Valley Media Group I think Lee’s running the rag out of an old hair salon or insurance office. They used to have an actual, like, y’know, newspaper building a short walk from my hovel. It’s either a law office now or got knocked down for apartments.

  2. SAO' Says:

    I’m not sure if there is a convergence of dissimilar events that end up going in the same direction, or if it’s all part and parcel of the same basic underlying condition, but it seems to all go back to Tim Berners-Lee’s decision to make the internet free. If you paid $0.003 per page view, maybe we’d be in a different boat.

    What’s really funny is that Steve Wozniak wanted to give away this first crack at a personal computer, but the Other Steve convinced him to sell it. At the time, the motto in software development was that information wants to be free, but Willy Gates figured out that you could make something out of nothing and charge a boat-load for it, and then convince your customers that your shit was no good and needed to upgrade to a newer and prettier version.

    We’ve been dealing with this concept that the intertubes would make everything cheap and yet somehow folks could still make an honest living, and obviously both can’t be true.

    Maybe modern journalism is no different than the the corner TV repair shop or any other service, stuck playing by the rules of internet commerce whether they want to or not.

    But the word on the street is that your business has to be thinking of next year’s income source more so than today’s, and the best way to guarantee money tomorrow is to get folks to sign up for a service that they will forget to cancel.

    I have no problem subscribing to a service that I know I need. What bothers me is a product that the makers themselves don’t seem to be able to define. Have you been following the Accidental Tech Podcast boys? They are going down the membership route, and for $8 a month, you get the same thing you now get for free, except you get the unedited raw podcast the day before it’s released to the great unwashed. Sort of like selling sausage for $1, but for $2 I’ll let you see how I make it.

    That’s where I personally am with Bicycling. I can’t honestly tell you whether $40 is ridiculous or the deal of the century, because I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what they’re selling other a virtual membership card. And like Groucho said, I see no incentive to join a club with such lax standards that they would let me in.

    • khal spencer Says:

      The only bike magazine I willingly shell out dead presidents to get is Adventure Cycling. Heck, I don’t even tour but I like the stuff they write up since they are the only folks who still think that specifications on stuff matter. Even the stuff that guy Patrick O’Grady writes is pretty damn good.

      I write a check to the League of American Bicyclists since they seem to be the only effective game in town as far as national advocacy and their bicycle user training program is the basis for everyone else’s. So I get Bicycling as a fringe bennie. I thought the magazine was more fun back in the eighties and nineties when I was young and enthusiastic rather than what I am now. They had guys like Frank Berto writing like a bicyclist who happened to be an engineer rather than a millennial trying to sell me something I don’t want. And back then, a lot of stuff didn’t work very well even if it cost a lot (Campy Delta brakes, for example) and click shifting was in its infancy. I wonder if I remember how to friction shift?

      • DownhillBill Says:

        I still have a couple of issues from the late seventies (IIRC) back before they became BuyCycling. Ads for Zeus “whistle in the wind” milled and drilled groupos, etc. That stuff was slick, prime wish-book stuff. Rather like Playboy, now that I think about it. The mag is all worthless interchangeable drivel now IMO. I do remember one pic of a Delta brake with a profile of Italy milled in and filled with tricolor enamel, which was ultra cool. Kinda like Nouvo Record derailleurs, which were indeed expensive and didn’t shift worth a damn. Used to say my “index hand” was a lot better than “clunk shifting.”

        Those were also the days when we argued whether an extra cog on the freewheel was worth the extra weight. Tempus fugit.

  3. JD Says:

    PO’G: Thanks for the insights on the newspaper and derivative media industry. I must confess I have little knowledge of them; but as an occasional user, I have to wonder how much longer the hard-copy daily printed media can survive. US demographics are not in their favor.

    And their ever-evolving business model doesn’t seem to be competing well w/the internet sources. Reminds me a bit of a case study I did years ago on the Pony Express and the telegraph. The Pony Express tried everything (faster and more horses/riders, shorter stints from one station to another, etc.) and was able to hang on for maybe 10-15 years, then folded.

    The Denver Post is getting thinner and thinner and seems to have an ever-increasing percentage of national-level produced articles.

    On the flip side, I became a life member of “Runner’s World” magazine in ~1972 for $70 and am still receiving their monthly magazine.

    Would love to hear your and others’ take on what the future holds.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      More than one in five U.S. newspapers had been shuttered by the end of 2019, JD. They were late to acknowledge the power of the Innertubes, and when they finally “got it,” most of them really didn’t, and they started giving away the store, online, for free.

      The idea that Steve mentions above, that “information wants to be free,” is a beautiful thing in theory, like communism. It’s less so in practice, especially if you happen to be in the business of selling information.

      Margaret Sullivan has a new book, “Ghosting the News,” that I need to read. She’s the media columnist for The Washington Post and has also been the public editor of The New York Times. She’s the one with the real insights.

      As for The Denver Post, that is a case study in the virulent rapaciousness of the moneymen who are presently stripping newspapers for salable bits, like a chop shop does stolen cars. It was a great newspaper once, and now …

    • Hurben Says:

      I used to read Runner’s World until I was shocked to see a piece that I’d contributed to the ‘Dead Runners Society’ blog included in an article & me misrepresented as a ‘mid pack marathoner’.

      I tackled Amby Burfoot about it & he pretty much told me to Fuck off.

      A friend’s sister was the editor of their South African & Australian editions for a while, when I discussed this with her she pretty much said that they never checked sources & that their journalistic ethics were pretty much non-existent.

      • JD Says:

        Hurben: Yepperdoodle! The content and style of RW has changed markedly over the past 40-plus years. I guess you could say that’s prudent adaptability or a lack of journalistic ethics/standards, eh?

        But so has the audience and culture, eh?

        I’m way deep into a sandal tan here……hoping you have a great upcoming season!!!! 🙂

  4. JD Says:

    Should have mentioned earlier that you looked supremely happy and engaged in that photo, PO’G!!!! Life is good…..smell the roses…..stay safe, healthy, and sane!!!! 🙂 🙂

  5. SAO' Says:

    It’s such a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    The local rag, The Coloradoan, actually has some great reporters, and I’d pay the same subscription rate if they’d just send me a weekly newsletter with the columns from maybe three of them. So I subscribe. But I hate the service overall. It’s part of the USA Today network, so it’s a full-out assault on your brain cells trying to get through an article. “Hey, O’D is trying to read this article about the latest school board meeting … let’s blast him with links to Outbrain cuz what he really wants to know are the foods that Dr Oz says will prevent colon cancer!”

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