The media landscape continues to rapidly change, with the last month alone producing stories of buyouts, fresh appointments and record breaking digital figures. In part one of a series of catch ups with the UK’s top cycling publishers, BikeBiz talks to Rouleur, The Ride Journal, TheMerged.com, Road.cc and Factory Media.
Interview with managing director Bruce Sandell
What have been the biggest challenges that the publishing business has faced over the past few years?
Finding a profitable transition to digital media for traditional media owners. Even the rise of digital magazines has so far shown fairly small incremental revenue, the last set of ABC’s showed sales of seven per cent for the market – this ultimately seems to be made up of what would have traditionally been export print sales for many (they are down at almost 29 per cent across the cycling market).
We have relaunched our website recently – this now has two revenue streams for us, product sales and also we will soon be offering advertising against our journal editorial content. Our strategy is to build properties around our successful print magazine for our aspirational high spending audience and for our partners to interact with them.
Is print ‘dead’ as the saying goes, or is there a future for hard copy mags who employ a careful strategy?
Print is by no means dead – total retail sales value for the cycling market is up year-on-year. This is driven entirely by the road category and is down to the growing interest in our sport and the wide range of strong products available for different categories of the market.
Our plan with the magazine is to do things that no other media can do as well as print – which is why we invest so heavily in the quality of the paper, photography, image reproduction, presentation and journalism we use with Rouleur.
2013 saw a buyout by Gruppo Media – how has the affected the business’s growth, plans and resources?
The buyout concluded in April last year and was the result of about a year’s work, so was a huge relief to get it done. The rest of 2013 saw us mainly focusing on the important ‘back end’ side of the business. Things like getting our accounts systems and reporting in shape – we also took on a new FD, who is very experienced in both big and small media companies in the UK and overseas.
In November we launched our new website – which was the conclusion of nine months hard work by the team at Rouleur, who all did a fantastic job.
We also recently invested in marketing by recruiting Ben Ward from the Mirror Group to become our new marketing manager – he will oversee driving print sales, launch our digital bundle subscription and continue to increase sales/ traffic via our website.
How are subscriptions fairing?
They are growing nicely, we hope to break through the 6k mark soon. Most of our growth has been organic and word of mouth – we have done very little marketing to date. That will start in increase significantly now we have Ben in place. We will really be gearing this whole area up for growth. We have an extensive event plan this year to meet more potential readers throughout 2014.
You’re now readable via Apple’s App store – are tech savvy cyclists jumping at the chance to read a digital format, or are print sales enduring?
It is relatively small for us currently, with around 1,000 sales on each issue. We expect this to increase once we make the magazine available as a bundle – whereby subscribers can add the digital edition for a small increment to their print subscription. This will nicely compliment the print mag and mean readers can keep that pristine copy at home.
With increased competition on the market what do you feel is keeping current readers loyal to your title?
We redesigned the magazine for the first time since launch at the back end of last year – but our main focus is to keep on improving what we do and keep innovating. That is what keeps us ahead of the rest of the market in our reader’s eyes. We have some exciting plans for how we will be treating our product brand stories for 2014 – that will see us move ahead of the competition again.
Tell us about the stockist packages for bike retailers looking to carry mags:
We sell the magazine into stores ourselves – specialising in high-end road IBDs, the boutique style retailers and coffee shops. It is a perfect way to find our customers as these are exactly the sort of places they like to hang out in and spend lots of money! With our highest selling retailers like Condor who have been a fantastic supporter of Rouleur since launch we supply exclusive merchandising like light boxes.
Any launches, events or expansion planned for the year ahead?
This year will be about growing the magazine and website – we have a big plan on driving subscription sales. On the website, we will be increasing content on there with a view to grow traffic, advertising and product sales. We have some key product collaborations planned for later this year.
Privateer announced it was to cease publication in 2013 in favour of diverting resources to Rouleur. Any chance of a comeback for the mag?
We are extremely proud of what we achieved in Privateer – an innovative MTB magazine, that was loved by its readers and advertisers. Unfortunately we were fighting against a broader MTB market that has seen five years of consistent decline. We closed the magazine with an individually numbered collector’s edition and a firmly left the door open to return to the market if we feel the market is there in the future.
With one of the most recent title launches among its ranks, you would expect Factory Media to have had a slow year, gradually building Total Women’s Cycling from the ground up. Actually, it turns out the launch has proved one of the most active areas of the publisher’s portfolio, with monthly traffic to the site topping 100,000 visits per month, according to the publisher.
Furthermore, just last month the women’s cycling site hosted its own awards ceremony at The London Bike Show. Each category was voted for by over 1,000 people and winners included Laura Trott for Pro Rider of the Year, as well as Personality of the Year, and Breeze Champion Sara Braidwood for the Unsung Cycling Heroine Award. 2013 was also significant thanks to the launch of Factory’s own creative agency, called Prime and Fire. Led by Phil Young, the agency services the growing need for content led commercial solutions across the action sports and cycling market, and is already working with several big brands including Nike, O2, Volvo and Scott Bikes.
Having added the Run to the Hills event in 2013, 2014 promises to be another exciting year of growth for Dirt. After the successful launch of a German version of the magazine, a French edition will be launched in May creating a strong presence in the three biggest MTB markets in Europe.
Bike Magic reports a spike in unique users in 2013 and to the tune of an impressive 40 per cent increase. This in part is down to the expansion of content to include in-house video production, titled Bike Magic Trail Guide TV. This series of edits is from professional film maker Mark Huskisson.
Bike Magic’s move out of the city and to the Welsh town of Monmouth has put it at the heart of some of the best riding in the country and on the doorstep of the Forest of Dean, no less, which has added hugely to the credibility of reviews.
Ride UK has recently promoted Richard Cleggy Rowlands to the role of online editor, breathing fresh life into the online portal. A big thing for this brand is Facebook, with 170,000 likes and growing.
RoadCyclingUK has once again doubled traffic, according to Factory.
Other recent news from the publisher includes:
The Appointment of a new editor for Ride UK.
Having cemented its position as the No.1 BMX product-only website, TheMerged.com was given a facelift in 2013. With that investment in the site, the number of advertisers taking an interest “doubled over the prior year,” according to editor Dave Paterson.
“As our readership grew, so did the website. We brought on several new online contributors enabling us to provide much more original content, as well as work on exclusive articles alongside product designers, enabling us to bring new product information to our readers faster than any other BMX website. For example, this year we worked on exclusive product releases, including the most anticipated products of the year, like Cult’s Freecoaster and Kris Kyles’s Passenger frame from BSD.”
Going into 2014, the website’s owner says he’s keen to offer more exclusive content than ever before. “I can’t thank everyone who has supported us since day one, and I’m truly excited to see what this year brings,” added Paterson. “Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (@themerged) to stay on top of what’s going on in BMX today.”
The Ride Journal
Launched recently with the traditional party at Look Mum No Hands, The Ride Journal continues to be well received by readers inside and outside the industry. With a pool of writers chosen solely to tell their cycling stories, whether they be professionals or even irregular bike polo players, everyone’s welcome to share their tales from the trails and beyond – adding to the appeal of the magazine.
Editor Philip Diprose told BikeBiz: “Dealing with mostly small independent shops has meant we have seen a number of new stockists join us, yet a few have been forced to cut out things such as luxury magazines from their stock.
“We find it’s far easier to explain the appeal of an all encompassing, visually strong print based journal by getting a copy in prospective stockists (and readers hands). We are lucky in that we only do a limited print run designed to sell out of each issue, that said if we saw there was more demand from shops we would be happy to increase our print runs."
With all back issues all gone, The Ride Journal shifts over 5,000 copies of each edition. Bike shops interested in taking on the magazine can make contact with Diprose at firstname.lastname@example.org for all enquiries.
“road.cc aims to make 2014 the year when the last of the holds outs in the cycling industry get the message that ignoring digital is bad for your bottom line. Print magazine numbers shrink into insignificance against the sort of figures online can deliver." That’s the message from road.cc publishing director Simon Stansfield, who now sees the road cycling website as a resource widely used for purchasing decisions, as well as news.
“Having become an integral part of the bike, kit and accessory buying process for a vast number of UK cyclists, road.cc provides honest reviews from both male and female cycling staff. Whether it’s via a Google search for a review of the bike they want, or directly on the site, road.cc drives UK cyclists’ buying decisions every day," added Stansfield.
On to the figures and the publisher tells BikeBiz that last year saw another year of growth, with monthly unique visitors up 53 per cent year-on-year, page views up 38 per cent year-on-year and monthly visits up 46 per cent year-on-year.
2013 also saw road.cc have a thorough re-design. The re-design apparently helped the publisher make some improvements to user engagement, in particular on the social media side. Hand in hand with this re-design and increased unique visitor numbers, road.cc has also seen a massive increase insocial media with Facebook likes to over 44,000 and over 26,000 twitter followers.
Stansfield concludes: "2014 is going to continue this growth trend as January has already seen us record our best month ever with unique visitor numbers of 860, 307. We are confident that one million unique visitors will happen soon."
road.cc has today announced that it has broken through the one million unique users in a month milestone.