Back in the day, when blogging emerged to disrupt traditional media, David Jacobs and I published blogs together with Movable Type. That was an era that helped change how business was done. Working together to publish a magazine, David and I are changing it up again with a strongly independent, bike-centered focus. The spirit is the same as that early work and now in a different medium and ad-free. We’re like an indie label that doesn’t want to sell out, but reach a larger audience. David’s company, 29th Street Publishing, runs the platform that publishes the magazine on iOS devices for us. My blog, Bike Hugger, supplies the content, and this Webview is made by 29th Street Publishing for us.
Bike Hugger was early in blogging and social media (I wrote a book about them good old days). Before the gold rush by old media types trying to ‘monetize content,' back when you still handcrafted the HTML, when Trackbacks meant something, and Livejournal was hot. We saw the change in media consumption, production and usage coming way before the traditional media started to think about it, and we contributed to one of the most important changes in media history – the rise of the consumer voice and the liberation of idea sharing from consolidated mainstream media to formats that are accessible to anyone. Social media has given depth and breadth to the conversation on pretty much every topic, and everyone who wants a voice has a voice. Good, right? Well, yeah. And not so good all at the same time.
The proliferation of sites, zines, blogs, and forums has gutted traditional media in terms of both quality and credibility. Particularly with regard to product evaluation and review. There was always tension in traditional media between advertising needs and editorial integrity. But as long as traditional media had a largely cornered market in terms of distribution of information, they had at least some leverage over advertisers, and there was balance in any negotiations. Today, the balance is shifted far in favor of the advertiser. If they don’t like the copy generated about their products by a given media outlet, there are roughly another zillion outlets they can go to with their advertising needs. Integrity, honesty, bluntness have little place in product evaluation if a website or magazine wants to retain ad revenue and survive as a business.
In this way, consumers lose. They lose credible expert insight. Valuable and honest and accurate commentary and product review may be available in the marketplace, but the consumer must serve as their own guide in finding it, and must be sufficiently informed to sort quality advice from crap. But how do you know what you don’t know? How can you be sufficiently knowledgeable about a topic to discern good information from bad, if the topic itself is what you are seeking to learn about?
So now, Bike Hugger is shifting gears again and consumers have a voice. We think that rules. It has changed the game in their favor in terms of expecting and receiving good service from retail and elsewhere. And in fact, we see this from a media perspective as, at times, online retailers are better sources of product and industry information that more traditional media with their customers’ reviews. But still, there is bias in the information. Product selection for retailers may be carefully chosen and screened for quality, and well communicated, but ultimately, the retailer is still trying to sell stuff to you.
Oh, right, our role: we are carving out a new, deeper niche for Bike Hugger. Our goal is to serve the under-served audience, one that seeks higher quality information and wants to be free of advertiser and retail bias. We write about what we ride, wear, and like. And we expect you to pay for the service.
Yeah, you read that right. Advert-only media models are broken. Hybrid advert/subscription models: broken. If you want pure, unfiltered, no BS cycling coverage, product information and commentary, you’re going to have to pay for it. And for this to work, we’re going to have to deliver a product that’s worth the cost. And at $16.00 per year, that’s less than the a cup of coffee or a stroopwaffle, a beer even.
So that’s why we launched a magazine and now a broader Webview of it. We’ll continue to publish the blog and in our social channels. From the indy label analogy used above, we’re now a tiny public radio station in a Clear Channel landscape and this is our pledge drive for consumer-supported content. Micropublishing, as it called, is an unsullied ecosystem for content like ours. We follow others ahead of us in this market, including GlennF who publishes The Magazine. Tipping him that a Bike Hugger Magazine was coming, he replied
"Micropublishing is very exciting. It doesn’t remove the time, effort, and potential cost of producing editorial, but it dramatically reduces the production and distribution part of the cycle. The low cost of new platforms means that it’s possible for publications to thrive based on pure love (like zines and even home mimoed publications in the old days) all the way up to the New Yorker. I can see an ecosystem of many micropubs that have 5,000 to 50,000 regular subscribers, and a fair amount of money being put out for freelancer writer, photography, and illustration that has evaporated from the print world."
Glenn is right. Besides the business, it is about pure love and for me, the bike.