Chipps Chippendale and Mark Alker speak to BikeBiz...
How does it feel to be a BikeBiz Award winner – again?
Chipps: Fantastic. It’s great to win something voted for by your peers. We’ve been around a while now and it’s a small world, so it’s nice to think that we’ve not annoyed too many people in that time. Unfortunately, I missed the ceremony because I was, ironically, working late on the magazine that week.
Mark: I did make the ceremony and was suitably intoxicated and incomprehensible, which in no way should be taken as disrespectful. Quite the opposite – I was hugely flattered.
Singletrack is ten years-old in April. How has the reality compared with your expectations back in 2001? Did you expect the magazine to be winning awards?
Chipps: We originally started the magazine because there wasn’t anything out there that we wanted to read. It still fits that niche and it’s great that we’ve found a lot of other people who share that passion. As for winning awards in ten years? We’d never really planned past about year three.
Mark: I remember producing what I thought was a realistic business plan for our first three years. Needless to say, the graphs it contained didn’t shape up to reality. As it happens it seems I just got the scale along the bottom wrong – stretch our three-year graph to ten and it starts to look like what we have now.
Singletrack recently launched an iPhone app. How's that been received? And will print still be with us in ten years time?
Chipps: As the less tech-prone partner, I’m still waiting to find out what exactly the iPad does that’s so clever. I’m still optimistic that print will still be with us in ten years. However, it may go more like vinyl records in that the quality goes up, but sells to a smaller number of super-keen enthusiasts.Mark: The publishing world is undergoing a huge period of change right now, but like Chipps I have no fears that print will disappear. The iPhone/iPad app is just one small part of our overall digital subscriptions plan. It’s still a small, but growing addition to our other digital/website based issues. The most unexpected result of us launching our digital issues is the corresponding increase in print based subscriptions.
Digital issues have sold well and are one of our fastest growing areas of the business, but digital has sparked a greater interest in our print mag too. We now have over 5,000 subscribers, 4,500 of those still get the printed version. That’s up by over 1,000 since we launched the digital service at the end of 2009. The iPad and the like won’t replace print, but any publisher who doesn’t work out how to combine both into what they produce is going to struggle over the next few years.
Singletrack has gradually upped the number of issues it publishes every year. Any more increases coming up?
Chipps: No! Not because we don’t have the stories and content to fill it, but we would physically struggle to get five or six bikes an issue in on the right date, ridden, written about and photographed on a sunny day before the next lot turned up. We’d need a full time mechanic just to box and unbox the bikes.
Mark: The market we serve is simply not a monthly mag buying market. It’s the younger readers of a magazine market that sustain the monthly sales. Singletrack sits around for longer on coffee tables and it’s dipped into. That gives each issue a longevity that doesn’t need to be renewed every month. If we upped the frequency I firmly believe we’d see a reduction in the sales of each issue, and as Chipps implies, we’d all start hating each other in the office.
You (Chipps) have been in the trade for twenty years. Was magazine publishing part of the career plan?
I don’t even think that being in the bike trade was in the plan. I spent my early years, from 1991 at NTi (Nicol Trading International) waiting to be ‘found out’ and then, since 1994 I’ve been making it up as I go along as a journalist. And now, suddenly, I find that I’m some ancient part of the establishment.
Any final thoughts?
Chipps: Yes, that we have a lot of behind the scenes people that need thanking. Our staff have loyally done all the jobs we couldn’t, for little pay and little thanks – so I’d like to thank everyone who’s worked for and with us over the years.
Mark: Yes, our staff are amazing and considering that we’ve developed everything we do from design to subscriptions management from the ground up completely in-house, I’m hugely proud of everything they’ve achieved, especially when Chipps or I stand next to them and continually start sentences like, ‘Can you just make it so that it does this?’