Once upon a time, for many sports, magazines ruled the roost. The only way to get a fix of skate, snow , bike or surf photos , product reviews and news was to read a magazine.
The internet has slowly but surely been eating prints lunch, and with that decline in readership we've almost universally seen a drop in page count and in some cases, a drop in editorial quality.
So how bad is the decline for the UK mags?
|Mountain Bike Rider||17,493||16,945||15,112||14,401||13,508|
|Mountain Biking UK||28,998||28,992||27,382||25,233,||22,764|
|What Mountain Bike||9,572||11,131||-||-||-|
*What Mountain Bike closed June 2017, and 2016 circulation figures could not be found.
*Dirt figures were unavailable, but closed in 2015
As we can see from the ABC figures, it's a pretty steady decline in readership across the board, with MBR coming worryingly close to the numbers where What Mountain Bike shut its doors.
What about digital editions? Weren't they going to be the savior of print?
With the release of the iPad and Apple Newsstand, the magazine and newspaper industry went into a frenzy of excitement, here was a way where print could stay relevant in a digital world. The irony seemed lost on many, and for the most part what resulted was a packaged up PDF of the print magazine bundled into a clunky app that was hard to read and much worse than the experience of reading news on a website.
As it stands, digital editions make up a tiny percentage of magazine sales, and with circulation numbers shrinking it seems unlikely that things are going to turn around.
For comparison the UK now has no snowboard magazines left, the last, Whitelines closing in 2015 and skateboard stalwart Sidewalk also shutting up its print edition in 2015 and then disappearing completely in 2018.
What about Youtube?
Youtube dominates the online video space, and is the first stop for many riders looking for bike reviews, event coverage and just general riding videos. With support of the magazine, in theory it should of been possible for the magazine industry to shift over and dominate the video segment for their sector. Sadly, we seem to have witnessed a repeat of what happened in the early 2000's with print and websites, fearful of giving away content free or really investing in the web, most print companies online efforts were a stream of regurgitated press releases and ads for "In this months issue".
Things have improved though over the last few years, with Bike Radar , Bike Mag and MBR producing some decent reviews, features and tech tip videos.
So how are they getting on?
Joined 16 Sep 2008
*Immediate own BikeRadar and MBUK
Joined 29 May 2008
Joined 29 Sep 2011
Joined 1 Apr 2015
Bike Radar are top of the pile, but they do cover both road ,mountain bike and other bike types, whereas the others are pure MTB.
Looking at the 2 big non magazine players though we can see how far behind the print channels are:
Joined 5 Nov 2014
Joined 24 Aug 2015
In substantially less time the pure MTB channel GMBN have pulled in over twice the subscribers of Bike Radar and over 100m more views. Pinkbike used to host videos themselves, and only in late 2015 moved over to Youtube, but still have around twice as many subs as MBR who had a 7 year head start on them.
Ultimately, Youtube isn't a zero sum game, just because someone subscribes to Pinkbike doesn't mean they can't also be subscribed to BikeRadar. However, there are only so many hours in the day that people will watch videos for, and the fact that the print magazines had a well known established brand - in some case for decades - is such a shame. A forward thinking vision to produce high quality regular content 5 years ago could of lead to decent revenue streams to help balance the decline in print sales.
So what's next?
Peoples jobs and livelihoods are at stake, coupled with the fact that many people have a true passion for the art of print it would be nice to think positively for magazines future. Ultimately though, the numbers are only going one way, and the same is true for pretty much all industry's, but especially in the sports market. Mountain bike mags, for whatever reason seem to be one of the last standing.
There have been some glimmers of hope for "coffee table" magazines. High quality, very focused limited run magazines that are much more expensive than traditional "newsagent" magazines.
The first one we came across was the excellent Reason snowboard magazine going for around 10 years. Excellent photography, more in depth articles and a focus on quality.
In 2017 Sender Magazine was launched for the offroad 2 wheel riders, currently on issue 3 it does offer a glimmer of hope that there is a future for mountain bike print, even if it is in a slightly different form to what we are used to.