Official: Cycle News stops publishing

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Cycle-News-Closes

A Cycle News staffer has confirmed to Hell For Leather that this will be the last ever cover of the nearly 50-year-old publication. The magazine closed its doors last night, making it the second US motorcycle publication to do so this month, and yes, we are only on the first day of September. What’s happening?

On July 1, we brought you news that 2Wheel Tuner would publish its last issue in September, citing an inability to find a large audience and decreasing ad revenues. English magazine Visordown, formerly Two Wheels Only, went web-only earlier this summer too.

All three publications are victims of a general malaise effecting both the motorcycle and publishing industries. As both discover they’re no longer able to do business as usual, a sort of perfect storm is created; motorcycle manufacturers have less money to spend overall, increasingly they’re understanding that print isn’t necessarily the place to spend it and the publication’s ability to justify ad buys decreases with their readership and with increasing competition from a bunch of punk kids on the Internet. Publishers that are able to adapt survive, those that are stuck with a decades-old business model don’t.

At the risk of kicking a dead horse, it’s easy to identify Cycle News’s biggest problem. Its primary function was serving race results, information that’s been ridiculously easy to find online for well over a decade now. When you can find who won which motocross race on the race organizer’s own website, find emails announcing the win from the winning manufacturer in your inbox and umpteen other publications also publish the results, then what unique value proposition are you offering readers?

That right there is the crux of the matter affecting motorcycle publishing everywhere. Existing publications do too little to distinguish themselves. The same manufacturer-funded opinions on the same bikes doing the same wheelies and written in the same boring way do not make adequate content for more than one printed magazine or website. Add into that mix the sad fact that all other motorcycle magazines are competing for the same 47-year-old-plus white, male reader.

Not having read any of the above and assuming you didn’t know which industry I’m talking about, if I described to you a group of publications competing for a shrinking audience that’s increasingly irrelevant to their advertisers with identical content, you’d agree that I was describing a recipe for failure, right?

Crazier yet, the bike manufacturers themselves are, for the most part, unable to identify this conundrum. Apparently happy to accept a massively decreased ability to communicate with their potential audience, they shun not only the web, but any new publications too. Believe it or not, the head of street bike communications for a Big Four company told us two years ago, “Google is not an important search engine.” They’re content to focus instead on “supporting” their long-time buddies at magazines like Cycle News until such a time that the readership completely disappears. They identify advertising buys as “support” for magazines whose message they approve and who they feel are part of their marketing process, not as a way to reach potential motorcycle buyers or influence motorcycle sales. Secondary motorcycle advertisers (accessories and whatnot) follow along with the industry’s received wisdom or lack thereof.

The journalists at the failing publications? They send us their resumes.

If that paints a pretty negative picture of motorcycle publishing and the motorcycle industry’s inability to market itself, then it’s supposed to. Judging by our experience working with the motorcycle industry, neither has any idea how to dig itself out of this hole and, instead of acknowledging the need to climb out of said hole, is instead pulling the dirt on top of itself to shield it from the outside world. What’s that mean? Cycle News won’t be the last, not by a long shot.

  • http://www.modernangel.net Panoptikom

    Having worked with Harley, I will say that they have become rather committed (at least compared to other motorcycle companies) to online marketing/presence and social media.

    A focus on Google page rankings, proper SEO and online community building are all things that the Motor Company are aware of and have been working to optimize/improve.

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      A focus on Google Page Rankings and SEO are not exactly what Harley needs. Anyone having a tough time finding Harley Davidson online is in serious trouble at the game of life. Maybe I’m crazy.

      Online community building and customer engagement are where the industry sucks.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        +1.

      • http://www.buyshitdostuff.com Panoptikom

        Ha.. certainly. I was merely commenting/responding to the part of the article that mentions “Believe it or not, the head of street bike communications for a Big Four company told us two years ago, ‘Google is not an important search engine.’”

        My point was merely that H-D is aware of the situation, whether or not their online strategies are effective or not is a different question. That being said, the Harley Facebook page currently has 1,220,000 “fans”. That’s not insignificant. Their “Dark Custom” community has almost 33,000 fans alone.

        In comparison, the Honda Facebook page (for the entire motor company) has a mere 459,000 fans… Kawasaki – 92,000 and Suzuki – 5,000.

        The online community for Harley is massive and dwarfs every other auto or motorcycle manufacturers. Say what you want about their product, but H-D’s brand still has phenomenal strength.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

          We’re totally agreed on this. Harley isn’t the one the it’s head in the sand, and they aren’t being referred to here. In fact, HD has been quietly doing some rather nuanced infiltration into new demo/psychographics and markets.

        • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

          Well put, Pano. Just made me realize that I didn’t have Kawasaki on my Facebook.

          I think Harley’s done a better job than most. I’ve appreciated many of their recent moves, even if their bikes aren’t up my alley.

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      Try Googling “Harley Davidson cafe”

      You get pictures and links to a harley-themed restaurant. Replace HD with almost any other manufacturer, and you get pictures of actual motorcycles. Very amusing, to say the least!

  • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

    I keep hoping that mags will recognize their unique position and utilize it. Punk kids on the internet can provide the latest and greatest news. They do not, however, have easy access to a wide variety of equipment for testing. Magazines could go so much further here.

    Another major shortcoming is gear reviews. They hardly exist outside of product announcements and/or marketing overviews. I’ve seen Motorcyclist attempt to get more active with their gear reviews, but one or two items a month receiving a half-page section is a freakin’ joke. There are so many things to choose from out there, whether you’re talking about accessories, tires or protective equipment. There’s such an opportunity to provide insight that very few blogs are able to.

    For the life of me, I can’t see why it’s so tough to look at the big picture and focus on your strengths. As it stands, Cycle World and Motorcycle Consumer News are the only mags I subscribe to, and Cycle World may be next on the chopping block.

  • http://www.tanshanomi.com Tanshanomi

    Motorcycle Industry Magazine also went belly-up July 1.

    http://www.ultimatemotorcycling.com/motorcycle-industry-magazine-out-of-business

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Ha, I’d never even heard of those (two) magazines. Nice of Ultimate to do the ultimate job reprinting that press release.

      • http://www.tanshanomi.com Tanshanomi

        I don’t know ultimatemotorcycling.com from Adam, that’s just where I happened to find the press release in a Google search. I’ve received Motorcycle Industry as a freebie at work for years, and it was obviously going downhill for a while.

  • circuitsports

    America is breeding pansies who listen to the other flowers on how dangerous and impractical motorcycles are, and me too mags like 2 wheel tuner promote cheap garbage that doesn’t last and ruins everything else.

    Considering the content most people are interested in I am shocked by how many people have no idea of who Durbahn is or that there is even a motorcycle he built that owns the Ring record.

  • circuitsports

    And companies like Honda with there sticker packages for new model years aren’t helping – Ducatis in large part sell because they dont look childish – hmm maybe solid colors and clean lines are a better strategy than whatever the hell is going on with the ninja styling or the pokemon squint on the BMW 1000

  • circuitsports

    The CBR 600rr get’s 41 mpg and does 0-60 in 3 seconds – costs less than 1/2 a prius takes up 1/3 the space and makes milfs horny. If Honda can’t sell a trillion of them based on that alone they simply arent trying.

  • kidchampion

    I already miss Visor Down. And I wholeheartedly agree that gear reviews in magazines are poorly executed. As shown on this site, it is easy to review a motorcycle by taking it on an outing – and simultaneously review gear on the same outing. There’s a reason I only pay $4 per year for subscriptions to US MC mags.

  • Core

    I really liked this article. It reminds me of the place I work at. It’s a retail chain, but in the general sense there doing the same thing. Just sticking there head in the sand like idiots rather than adapting.

    Owell.

    • circuitsports

      that’s not true, best buy knows what the internet is they just dont think online sales will ever catch on.

  • CG

    Over 47 white male. Oops. I still subscribe to Bike, but I worry about their content continuously. There are young riders out there, but they don’t read print. It doesn’t matter the content, bikes, cars, news, print simply doesn’t matter. My kids (24/25*) might read books, but newsy stuff is what the internet is for. But that is what they have dealt with since they were 9 years old. My guess is the brilliant mba codgers that run most of these firms really are that out of it. Sad to hear about Visordown though. Bummer. *Currently inactive…

  • pplassm

    Another “same 47-year-old-plus white, male reader”. Everything you said is true.

    What’s the answer, though? Remember the beat-down that “Twistgrip” got? Or maybe that’s too long ago.

    One point that’s huge, though. No motorcycle manufacturers are linked to MY facebook. All my HD riding friends are hooked up on theirs. Hmmmmm.

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