It’s an interesting time for the commercial media community. Business to consumer print seems to be in slow decline across the board, yet digital figures appear to be growing exponentially on an almost daily basis.
The cycling community is one that values a constant stream of information – arguably above most other industries – but even the most historically significant titles are feeling the pinch on print. The long-term future is digital; this is seemingly an inevitability, but is that a bad thing? Information can be shared at lightning speeds, unbound by the constraints of mailing deadlines and word counts, and the traditional website format is being pushed beyond previously perceived limitations.
Regardless, print is far from dead yet. There are still millions of people who value the experience of turning the page. To discuss the complexities of the modern media landscape, we caught up with Simon Collis, editor-in-chief of Time Inc’s sports and hobbies division and head of market Sean Igoe, to find out how the company is embracing the shift in reading habits, and what the future holds.
The latest ABC figures show that print is down across the industry – is the decline of print inevitable?
Our audience has the choice of more channels for consuming content than ever before, across print, digital and video, so it’s inevitable that some will choose to forego the print magazine.
It is, however, something that should be kept in perspective. In 2017, we sold more than 1.2 million copies of Cycling Weekly and MBR, reaching a highly engaged audience who are willing to pay for the content they love. There is a slow structural decline in the print industry, but the size and quality of the audience is still hugely significant.
You mentioned that online is increasing significantly – can you provide us with more specific stats?
Our websites’ unique users grew by more than 11 per cent last year. Cycling Weekly cemented its position as the UK’s biggest cycling site – measured by Comscore – and MBR is now firmly established as the third biggest off-road site after Pinkbike and Singletrackworld.
Our affiliate offering also continues to grow spectacularly. In 2017 we generated more than £2.7 million of revenue for our retail partners via affiliate links, thus proving what we always knew: that our audience is a rich source of potential customers who are ready to trust our recommendations and click through to buy.
Video has also been a huge growth project for us – both in terms of revenue and audience – and our YouTube views were up more than 91 per cent versus 2016.
How did the approach to content change with the major investment in online?
It’s hard to describe all the ways. We think about different content for different digital channels – especially social, search and internal circulation – and we write content for a broader audience, from beginners and commuters to avid fans and high-level riders.
We’re flexible in how we work across different subject matters. Some content, such as news and product reviews, can appear online first and then be repackaged for print at a later date; for fitness and features, the opposite trajectory can apply.
The principles of story-telling, product evaluation and giving quality advice don’t change. But the ways that people discover and consume content do, and we’re always learning more about the best ways to give our audience an enjoyable, useful and engaging experience while they’re with us.
What makes a successful, progressive cycling publication?
Our aim over the past few years has been to place our historic publication at the centre of a 360-degree landscape that includes digital, video and events. We’ve dramatically increased our share of the advertising market as a result of this strategy, which makes each component more than the sum of its parts – we use video to add value to our event sponsors, digital to amplify our print messages, events to deepen campaigns with our biggest spenders – it all works holistically as part of a package that no other publisher can offer.
Do you think that other industry titles are ‘stuck in the past’?
Actually we think the cycling market is blessed with some great publications, websites and video channels. The choice for commercial partners is huge, which means we have to work hard to secure business, but it also drives us to work harder and smarter on our products and on increasing the size and quality of our audience.
Does a gain in audience numbers come with a shift in audience demographic, or is it simply an increase within the same demographic?
There is no doubt that we have expanded our demographic. When we deliver more than three million unique users in July, it’s simply not possible to find that many identikit clones of the ‘traditional Cycling Weekly reader’.
We deliberately target all kinds of cyclists now. We have more of our ‘traditional readers’ than ever before, but we also have a rich variety of cyclists and cycling fans from all around the world.
Last time we spoke, we discussed how the events side of the business is making strides, what is the current situation with events?
UKCE had a record-breaking year in 2017, with over 76,000 entries – the highest since the company was founded. 25 per cent of them were new customers to UKCE, which gives us great confidence in the number of new riders coming into the market. Women participants are increasing too. And 2018 is continuing to look strong with event entry up six per cent YOY – October 2017 to March 2018.
UKCE is in a great place, offering nationwide coverage with over 75 events that offer something for everyone. The company is now very much settled into the Time Inc UK cycling portfolio and has been reaping the benefits of being part of our 360-degree marketing approach.
This year, we have SiS as nutrition partner, we have added the Sigma Sports Challenge Series, we are about to announce a series with Altura and Le Col have become our clothing partner for the Brewin Dolphin velo series, so really exciting times ahead. More brands are working with UKCE than ever before.
As previously reported, we are launching the inaugural Cycling Weekly awards at 8 Northumberland place on 12th December, we have already secured sponsors for seven of the ten categories, we are delighted with the response and support from the market. It proves to be a really exciting 2018 for the group.
How to you plan on ensuring that online growth is sustained in 2018?
Driving audience from social media – especially Facebook – has been getting harder, so we’ve invested more time and money in our search offering. The search authority of sites such as cyclingweekly.com and mbr.co.uk have taken years to build, and we now stand on the shoulders of thousands of high-quality, original pieces of content. As a result we can rank highly for any topic in our ecosystem, and we continue to build content that meets the needs of cyclists searching for information – and particularly those looking to purchase.
So far the signs are positive – Cycling Weekly’s UK UUs are up 18 per cent in the first two months of 2018, while MBR is up 16 per cent.
Do you think that ultimately all content will be digital, or will cycling print always have a place at Time Inc UK?
Our brands have an enduring ability to connect with their audiences in print. We remain focused on evolving this hugely important part of our business, where we continue to deliver a trusted and effective platform for our advertising partners to target engaged readers. So yes, print continues to earn a significant place in our portfolio.
Magnetic, a magazine marketing agency, recently released a study called A Matter of Trust, which highlighted that magazines command considerably more trust than social media. That trust can be translated through to advertisers building their brand. Add to that the consistent studies showing that magazine readers’ mind-sets are more relaxed and open to advertising than when searching for a specific product or review, and it’s clear why so many advertisers continue to request print as part of their marketing mix with Time Inc UK.
Print readers pay for their weekly title and so are by definition a highly engaged segment of our audience. Cycling Weekly also has a high subscriber renewal rate of 70 per cent, which proves we have a loyal base of print readers.
We are committed to ensuring the magazine continues to deliver the best possible mix to readers. Over the past few months we’ve conducted extensive research and analysis on what our readers want and value from our print publication. In April you’ll see a redeveloped, new-look Cycling Weekly delivering more take-home advice for cyclists; more detailed, engaging product testing; more previews of the biggest races in the calendar; and a fantastic new front cover.
Our brands have a long heritage because they change and improve, always adapting to market trends and audience behaviour. The only constant for Cycling Weekly is its position at the heart of British cycling – and that remains as true now as it was when the magazine was founded in 1891.