The Bonnier Motorcycle Group, publisher of Cycle World, Motorcyclist and other titles including Hot Bike, has just pulled the plug on the latter and fired most of its staff. Maybe Bonnier is in fact down to two print magazines now? The print versions of Sport Rider and Dirt Rider folded last year, though the online versions remain. Sources tell us the Hot Bike site will remain open for business also, with content provided by a reduced staff that also provides editorial content for other BMG titles. Reliable sources tell us some other Bonnier magazines are also getting the axe, including such prestigious titles as Baggers, ATV Rider, and UTV Driver.
According to its own website, “For more than 40 years Hot Bike has been the custom motorcycle enthusiast’s go-to magazine. Hot Bike features in-depth technical articles for any rider’s level of skill, the baddest new products, tools and gear, as well as massive coverage of the world’s most mind-blowing custom V-twin-powered bikes. Hot Bike also covers the lifestyle of real bikers with in-depth personal profiles, event coverage, and some of the hottest ladies ever to be draped over a motorcycle.”
Other magazines in the American V-twin niche seem to be doing pretty well in spite of the downturn in all things print. In fact what makes the killing-off of Hot Bike hard to understand is this rosy document posted in Bonnier’s “Media Solutions” section just one week ago:
January 2, 2019
While audiences, especially within the past decade, have shifted to various avenues to retain news, key metrics recently released show the prominence of print is still thriving among brands under the umbrella of Bonnier Motorcycle Group.
The power of print continues to compel readers.
While audiences, especially within the past decade, have shifted to various avenues to retain news, key metrics recently released show the prominence of print is still thriving among brands under the umbrella of Bonnier Motorcycle Group. Both Motorcyclist and Hot Bike magazines, especially, delivered strong returns in 2018. The growth is backed up by a bevy of research that reflects an overall increase in audience.
Motorcyclist magazine, the six-times-a-year, two-wheeled, adventure-themed title, experienced a +58.6% increase in total print/digital readers since the 2017 Fall MRI release. There were a number of reasons for the jump, but the most glaring was a major redesign in early 2017 which helped to ignite readers’ excitement.
The total audience metric increase culminated into just over 3.0 million readers. Audience increase driven by a surge in secondary readers (+82.7%) was also a key catalyst. Motorcyclist’s overall total print audience increased 67.3% during this duration, hovering over 2.9 million readers.
And Motorcyclist isn’t alone in this success.
The Bonnier Custom Insight team recently polled 679 respondents who received and read at least one of the first five issues of Hot Bike magazine in 2018. Promoted through email invitation through Hot Bike subscribers and via Hot Bike’s heavy-populated Facebook page, the results were extremely positive.
The Content and Ad Effectiveness Study measured consumers’ engagement across issues 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of 2018, as well as the ad effectiveness for issues 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Here are a few highlights among the intricate study:
With the new year upon us, there is plenty of opportunity to promote your brand within the pages of these exciting print brands. Contact your Bonnier Motorcycle Group Business Development representative to learn more!
Well, with that kind of positive feedback, why shut down such a hot property as Hot Bike? It would almost lead one to question the veracity of a lot of other claims. Such as the one that states that “Motorcyclist’s overall total print audience increased 67.3% during this duration, hovering over 2.9 million readers.”
Elsewhere, Bonnier claims Motorcyclist has 120,000 subscribers and we must assume far fewer newsstand sales, given that now that there aren’t many newsstands and the magazine is only published six times a year. So it’s curious how we arrive at a claim of 2.9 million print readers? Maybe that’s annually? I guess if you add (generously) 10,000 newsstand sales times six issues per year to the 120,000 subscribers, and each of those 180,000 readers passes each issue on to 15.1 of their friends… it’s called “rpc” or readers-per-copy, a highly questionable metric used by some highly questionable advertising sales people.
Speaking for myself, when I used to get bike magazines, I hoarded them jealously. I don’t think I ever gave one to anybody. You? (While we’re scrounging Bonnier media kits, it’s interesting to see that Cycle World‘s circulation is now smaller than Motorcyclist‘s, with a claimed circulation of just 80,000 to M’cyclist‘s 120,000. Through the power of modern analytics, however, that results in a Total Audience of 1,776,000 for CW to Motorcyclist‘s 1,410,000 – resulting in a far superior rpc body count for CW. [Read this to learn more about Motorcyclist’s sudden ascent!]) We hope Motorcyclist can maintain the momentum now that its stars, Zack and Ari, have defected to Motor Trend TV.
It’s easy to attribute Bonnier Motorcycle Group’s problems to “the death of print,” but some other ad guys we spoke to tell us that print’s demise is greatly exaggerated. Rider magazine, which has been in the top five forever, suddenly finds itself as the biggest monthly consumer streetbike publication in the US (HOG Magazine and American Rider are perks of Harley Owners Group and AMA membership), and doing very well by all accounts. And there are still more than a few dirtbike monthlies which are also very successful. With all the alternative facts surrounding actual circulation numbers, Amazon might be as good a place as any to gauge what magazines people are actually buying. Its best-sellers are all listed right here.
Should anybody be surprised that numero uno is Easyriders? Followed by Dirt Bike in the runner-up spot (go Wolf Webb and Ron Lawson!). Motorcyclist comes in at #4, and Hot Bike is (was) #7! The Amazon numbers might be off, for one thing, because longtime readers of magazines like Rider renew their subscriptions for years at a time without the middleman, and many mags may not even have an agreement with Amazon?
It’s not at all scientific and it’s not all just Bonnier: We received word last week that Performance Bikes, the classic British title listed at #11, was also led to the gallows last week by its publisher. RIP.
No doubt print magazines are a far tougher sell than before the internet appeared, but there’s also no doubt that plenty of print magazines are doing quite well, thank you. Especially in the very niche just made less competitive with the demise of Hot Bike and Baggers. Who knows why some succeed where others fail, but it’s good to recognize patterns. And the Bonnier pattern isn’t a very pretty one lately. One sign that things aren’t so swell is when a title (titles) are killed off only a week after a newsletter goes out to advertisers touting how great they’re doing.
Godspeed to all our fellow motorcycle journalists who’ve gone down with their ships, and good luck.
Subscribe to Hot Bike on Amazon. O wait…