The State Of Moto Publishing, According to Bonnier Motorcycle Group

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Big changes at Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Hot Bike, Sport Rider, etc.

Brave New World is the title of a 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley with a dystopian view of a hypothetical future society that is disoriented by new ways of being. This has some parallels to the motorcycle publishing industry, especially in the medium of printed magazines.

The Bonnier Motorcycle Group is the current juggernaut among motorcycle-related publications, as it manages a large majority of popular national moto magazines in America. Titles like Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Hot Bike, Sport Rider and Dirt Rider, among others, fall under the extensive Bonnier umbrella since 2011.

And yet, not all is well at the BMG. In 2017, Motorcyclist converted to a publishing schedule of just six issues a year, while Cycle World reduced its monthly output to 10 times a year. Meanwhile, Sport Rider and Dirt Rider magazines were axed entirely.

Things must be getting worse over at Bonnier. We learned this week that CW, which has been for years the world’s most widely circulated motorcycle magazine, will now be publishing just four issues a year. Additionally, Hot Bike was melded with Baggers to serve the American custom and V-Twin touring audiences with a single publication.

“As we enter a new and exciting year within the motorcycle industry, it is imperative to recognize that the footprint of all media, including that within the motorcycle sector, is encountering significant change,” reads a BMG statement released this week.

“Among these refinements, print media is witnessing the most significant of changes. Consumers continue to enjoy traditional media, but advertising demand in all magazines has steadily decreased. However, it has been proven that Millenials, surprisingly, enjoy the printed product, especially when the magazine is of high-quality, artistic and experiential.”

The BMG also notes that most people now consume digital content across many platforms, stating it “is refining its print content to position it more toward the younger, millennial audience with higher quality products.”

“We have done extensive research with our audience about their media consumption preferences,” said Bonnier Motorcycle Group SVP/Managing Director, Andy Leisner. “While advertisers seek more direct-response ad solutions that we deliver through our digital products, we still have a unique audience of affluent baby boomers plus millennials that value culture-rich, high-quality content delivered in good print magazines. Our focus groups have told us that they will pay more for a beautiful, quality product, so we are redesigning our print brands to deliver a great reading experience that they will covet and value.”

To quote another author: Strange days indeed…

Kevin Duke
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  • Bunkster Bunkster on Jan 20, 2018

    That's disappointing news. Online offers advantages, but I prefer relaxing with a magazine and the convenience of reading while I'm preparing or eating a meal. I feel that print ads can be viewed leisurely and are often more relevant or at least far less annoying if they aren't.
    I've enjoyed Cycle World forever - the staffers were motoJOURNALISTS; that is, they were good writers who happened to be writing passionately about bikes. Couldn't help but notice the thinner issues of late.
    Not a fan under Catterson's helm but I returned to liking Motorcyclist a lot under Mark Hoyer. They had some good contributors, and the two young guns were fine as well. The new fancy layout didn't do much for me (and sometimes the form over function format is downright useless) but I accepted that they were trying to solicit a different clientele. Meanwhile, their website(s) since the merger is a dumpster fire which is hardly a better alternative to print.
    So what went wrong? Obviously, mags are supported by advertisers who increasingly seem to prefer the digital format. Is that because it's cheaper, or more effective, or easier to quantify? Does the quality of the content matter, or just the number of eyeballs clicking on the webpage? Or is it only important to have the 18-25 age demographic? Just like with newspapers, the ability to provide quality content diminishes if the revenue from advertising or subscriptions falls off. Is it that readers aren't willing to pay for quality content? Or is the revenue not going to content producers? Or do the Bonnier marketers have their heads so far up a jargon hole that they've created a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure?
    I've always been sorta ho-hum about Rider but have come to appreciate that mag. Regardless, might I suggest they must be doing something right since they are able to produce a hefty issue every month with apparently adequate advertising revenue, and their website is pretty good too?
    (BTW, as for online content, sets a darn fine example! Thank you for that. :)

  • Jim Miller Jim Miller on Feb 15, 2018

    This has been a long time coming. I was Managing Editor at Cycle magazine when Hachette pulled the plug, and the excuses were along the same lines. Obviously, in the early Nineties, the internet wasn't the powerhouse it is today, but print and mailing costs were cited as the primary reasons for the change. At the time, Cycle was the largest bike mag in the world, with a circulation close to 400,000 issues per month. Printing and and mailing costs made that large number more a liability than a benefit, which is partly why Hachette kept Cycle World and killed Cycle.

    At the same time, the entire industry considered Cycle to be the better magazine, and there was some backlash, to a point where several people involved in the decision agreed months later that they had killed the wrong book. I'm not sure either would have survived at this point.Steve Anderson, Cycle's editor at the time, started an early online offering, Wheelbase, which tried to utilize some of the staff and stringers. Download speeds being what they were, most people weren't interested in viewing--and paying for-- an online magazine that would require two or three minutes to download a full road test. Most of us went on to other outlets, or found other employment outside the industry. I still ride even today, but don't stay up on motorcycles like I once did.

    It's sad, but the economics have shifted to a point where advertising drives the magazine industry, and the number of readers is far less important than it once was.