Common Tread

Turnover in motorcycle media shifts up a gear in 2018

Feb 20, 2018

In January of 2017, I was taken by surprise when Polaris shut down the Victory brand and was unsurprised when Buell (again) ceased operations. In the first two months of 2018, we've seen similar turmoil in another part of the industry: the motorcycle media.

Worn-out phrases about a "shifting landscape" need to be replaced by metaphors about migration, given the numbers of people leaving the field in one way or another. It's not just the print publications, either, but also some of the largest online motorcycle sites in the United States that have seen significant turnover in the first two months of the year.

Two top (and long-time) editorial managers at Motorcycle.com have left, as did the director of RideApart.com. (The latter will be no surprise to you if you noticed Chris Cope's byline on this site yesterday.) Layoffs also occurred at the original content operation of the new RidersDomain.com site established by JakeWilson.com.

This follows the decision by the Bonnier Motorcycle Group to reduce Cycle World magazine to four print issues a year instead of 12, as we reported earlier, and merging Hot Bike and Bagger magazines. Another round of layoffs at Bonnier this year cost about half a dozen more editorial employees their jobs. There's even been a layoff at the American Iron  publisher.

All this has happened in the first seven weeks of 2018. I'm not even going back to last year's turmoil when Bonnier closed titles, such as Sport Rider and Dirt Rider, and laid off employees, some of them experienced industry veterans with many years on the magazine mastheads. And that's not to mention Motorcycle-USA.com closing down almost exactly two years ago, despite being one of the most comprehensive motorcycle sites in the country at the time.

Even ignoring those earlier developments, the amount of change in the business since the beginning of 2018 has been extraordinary. Another element that makes it significant, in my opinion, is that these retrenchments are not just print publications, but also online publications; not just web sites supported by advertising, but also sites that did not rely on advertising. That confirms, to me, that the problems run much deeper than one disrupted business model and reflect industry-wide issues. 

This turmoil may lead you to think our job at Common Tread is easier, but I don't see it that way. Just as any ecosystem functions best when it is balanced, healthy competition makes everyone stronger. Each publication, print or online, has its own niche and its own role to play. Also, as a strong believer in the danger of hubris, I know that industry-wide challenges can bite any of us. Lots of people are producing quality motorcycle-related content, in text, still photography and video. The harder job is to figure out how to provide that content essentially for free and still keep the lights on and the servers humming.

On a more personal level, I'd add that some of the people leaving this business were among those I most trusted, writers whose words (whether text or a video script) I knew I could believe — not just because of their years of experience, but more because I'd seen them at work, and seen how they approached the job. The reasons each of those people has moved on, whether voluntarily or otherwise, are no doubt unique. The one thing they have in common is that their absence does not make the U.S. motorcycle media better or stronger.