Rouleur: Books, business and branching into events with the 'Gruppo'

BikeBiz interviews the publisher and discovers plenty in the pipeline...
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Rouleur’s primary goal has always been to inspire the cycling connoisseur and while the magazine still serves this purpose well, the publisher’s work has only just begun. Mark Sutton talks to publisher Bruce Sandell and Rouleur editor Guy Andrews about future plans…

What typically inspires an issue of either magazine?

Andrews: We have many, many feature ideas stretching into the distant future. We realised that a lot of the great ideas that we had, and that contributors and photographers were coming up with, had no place in current consumer titles. No place, but more importantly, not enough space.
Our contributors are brilliant at sending the ideas in because they see now that we will allow them, pretty much, a free rein. Herbie Sykes’ interview with Pat McQuaid in the latest issue, for example, stretches over 15,000 words – we do this kind of important work because we have no real rules as such. Also we set out not to have time specific content and that seems to be very popular with readers, advertisers and retailers alike. Fundamentally, the contributors are the mainstay of the direction of both magazines. It’s simple really, we just let them take their ideas where they want to.

How can retail benefit from Rouleur packages? What’s available to stockists and at what cost?
Sandell: Our distribution network is selective – currently we only sell our magazines through specialist bike retailers, so stockists will not find themselves in competition with their local newsagents. Rouleur is priced at £10 an issue and Privateer £9 and we offer retailers a healthy margin per copy. Both magazines are very collectable and not time sensitive, so they can be left on sale until they sell out. We supply all retailers with a display unit, plus they all get listings in the magazine and website.
Also, being one of our 150 stockists means that customers will make a point to visit the store when a new issue lands, which will lead to good sales opportunities on other products.

How can retailers benefit from Rouleur’s book offering?
Sandell: We have now sold out of Timm Kölln’s The Peloton and the second edition of Michael Barry/Camille J McMillan’s Le Metier.
We will be launching the Rouleur Annual Volume Five this Christmas, which, along with Herbie Sykes acclaimed book on the Giro d’Italia Maglia Rosa and the Rouleur 2012 calendar, will be available to retailers for the Christmas period. All products have limited runs – so it’s important to get orders in quickly.

The publication frequency changes every now and then – will we ever see monthlies?
Sandell: We have changed frequency on Rouleur to cope with customer demand. Five years ago it started as a quarterly, in 2010 we moved to six issues and in 2012 we move to eight per year. No plans to increase frequency further at this stage.
Business wise – how’s everything going?
Bruce: Business has been excellent; we have gone through a very strong growth curve over the last two years.
As mentioned, we have increased Rouleur’s frequency, launched Privateer successfully, invested in staff, increased our marketing spend, improved paper stock, increased minimum paginations, grown subscriptions enormously, increased the retailer base, all while still maintaining the very high standards our brands have become well known for.

You mentioned an event in the pipeline – what can you tell us about this?
Sandell: Next year we are launching ‘Rouleur Gruppo - The Racing Bicycle Show’ in central London to tie in with the London Nocturne over the weekend of June 8th and 9th, 2012. This event attracts over 11,000 spectators and the cream of British racing talent every year.
The idea of a show that serves enthusiasts in road racing and riding is something that we at Rouleur have been working on for a long while. We aim to bring together high quality cycling brands, retailers, bike builders and services that will make road cycling more enjoyable for our visitors. We will present the best services, products, accessories, clothing and bicycles that we know our readers would want to use.
Along with these exhibitors, we will also bring a host of other features to the show, including talks from experts, photographic exhibits, bike collections from enthusiasts and much more – all of which will provide the visitor with a unique experience that is perfectly suited to the modern day road cyclist.

Looking at the staff roster it seems both magazines only have journos who’ve been in the trade for decades. How important is it for the publisher to have such distinguished writers/photographers on board?
Andrews: Finding good photographers hasn’t been a massive problem for us, along with some excellent pro-race photographers, we’ve used many professional photographers that have little, or no experience of cycle racing and that’s been really important. Fresh eyes are essential if you want new angles on our sport.
We’ve been very fortunate to have world-renowned photographers like Nadav Kander shooting for us (he shot the cover of issue 19 and the story on UK frame builder, Ron Cooper) and also Magnum photographers like John Vink and Guy Le Querrec. These guys are at the top of the photography ladder and, lucky for us, they love bicycle races too. To date we’ve used over 30 different photographers in Rouleur, which is pretty unique for any magazine.
Writing is somewhat different however. Cycling requires enormous underpinning knowledge and that only comes with experience – so on Rouleur we have stuck with a very experienced group of writers, all of them published authors, or respected journalists.
Privateer seems following a similar path in its growth, both editorially and commercially, so we intend to include more new photographers and writers. But mountain biking is a younger, very different sport and Privateer is more about getting out and riding – the syndrome, as we’ve called it – rather than the traditional racing bike culture of Rouleur.

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What kind of rider typically picks up a copy of either magazine?
Sandell: They are highly desirable customers who are predominantly male and are both enthusiastic about cycling and successful professionally. They’re typically in their 30s or 40s. People who, despite these challenging economic times, have money to spend on their pastime. A recent Rouleur reader survey showed that 75 per cent had three or more bikes, which, for our advertisers, sums up our readers: they are always looking for the next purchase or upgrade.
Beyond this powerful demographic stuff we know that they are intelligent, passionate and well-informed people. They want to be inspired and motivated to ride, rather than just be told what to buy, or how to ride.

The magazine is printed on FSC responsible sources – how long has this been important to the publication?
Sandell: FSC is dedicated to responsible management of the world’s forests. Our aim is to take a sensible and responsible approach to all areas of our business. If you look at our distribution, we do this extremely well – we have no unsolds at all. Every single issue of our magazines sells out, with no waste.
If you look at newsstand distribution you have a system that works on average sales efficiencies of 50 to 60 per cent – so between 40 and 50 per cent of every issue printed is pulped.

What advances has the publisher made online, if any?
Sandell: We currently have a very successful online shop where we sell subscriptions, back issues, books and merchandise. We also have two small, but growing, blogs. To date our business has been wholly focussed on delivering our content through very high quality collectable print products. Print will always remain a priority for us and will be at the core of everything we do. However, we have some exciting plans for 2012 that will engage our audience online.

Could we eventually see a triathlon or cyclocross dedicated magazine?
Sandell: The long-term plan for Rouleur Limited is to create a high-quality international sports media business, built around specialist magazines and books, with a strong and loyal subscription-orientated customer base.
However, we have a busy year next year, with website developments and Rouleur Gruppo, so no plans for any other print magazines at this time.

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