BY JASON NORMAN
SAN DIEGO, CA—The most severe recession since The Great Depression has ushered in a new era of media where counting on one publication and one medium as a primary source of revenue have vanished.
Publishing companies that are doing more than just surviving—actually growing in what has now improved to a stagnant economy—have their fingers in a wide array of cookie jars.
“That was all part of the plan,” said Andy Hersam, executive vice president of media for Competitor Group, discussing the company’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series. “We didn’t want to just be in media. We didn’t want to just be in events. What we did want to be is the best on all platforms. Whatever platform we’re executing on we have to be the best in the business.” Competitor Group’s publications include VeloNews, Triathlon and Inside Triathlon.
Bicycling magazine, too, has looked beyond print and Web.
“What we’ve done is look at alternative revenue streams,” said Chris Lambiase, publisher for Bicycling magazine. “The thing with being involved with bicycling and running as well, there’s that opportunity to bring your advertisers to the point of sweat, whether it’s at a charity ride, or a race, or a marathon, or a half mile.”
Three years ago Bicycling launched Dream Rides, partnering with active travel company Backroads; they combined efforts to produce several high-end bike tours in Northern California featuring such cycling notables as Chris Carmichael or Bob Roll.
“Again, this is a way to generate a new business for ourselves,” Lambiase said. “This adds value for so many of our advertisers by allowing them access to the folks who sign up for these trips. The folks who sign up are extremely happy to test these bikes, helmets, etc. The folks who sign up for these trips are their audience.
It’s about opening up new lines of business beyond the traditional advertising models.”
No one has been served better by these alternative methods than Bicycling, which took a hard hit during the recession’s toughest times. This was due in large part to many of Bicycling’s advertisers being non-endemic, which seemed to take bigger blows than the bicycle industry over the last few years.
“One of our largest categories is automotive advertising,” Lambiase said. “The automotive industry suffered through the recession. Finally the auto industry has really taken off the second half of the year, and you’re starting to see the results. Ford has turned their business around. So many auto manufacturers are starting to pull themselves out of some pretty dark times. So we’re on a pretty good track.”
Lambiase reports that the first half of the year for Bicycling was still slow, but that the July, August, September and October issues have all been up over last year (see chart for Bicycling’s numbers).
“We’ll end up running ahead of last year,” Lambiase said. “And that’s because of an increase in endemic advertising—bicycling industry ads are starting to come back.”
It appears that Bicycling’s plight typifies magazines on the whole. Last year was a rough one for magazines as total dollars tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau tallied just under $19.5 billion—a drop of 18.1 percent from 2008. But for the first six months of 2010 it appears magazines are moderately pulling out of the muck with $9.2 billion in total dollars—a 1.2 percent increase over the same time period in 2009.
Most companies agree that in today’s publishing world it’s not wise to lay all your eggs in print advertising. And while the Web—for most companies—doesn’t provide nearly the revenue stream print does, it still plays a vital role financially and through visibility.
“We’re putting a lot more effort into our Web site, trying to build both brands,” said Robb Mesecher, advertising director at Hi-Torque Publications, whose cycling magazines include Mountain Bike Action and Road Bike Action. “It’s not a magazine, it’s not a Web site, it’s both.”
Hersam said Competitor Group has upped its online game with a newfound focus on programming, which includes 5-10 minute video clips for its cycling and triathlon Web sites. VeloCenter, for example, gives viewers everything they need to know in bike racing for that week. During the Tour de France they produced three shows a day.
“It was just an added opportunity for Tour followers to get a real inside scoop in a studio setting,” Hersam said.
“Some people would say if you’ve got a five-minute video, you’ve got one page view. What we’re doing is selling sponsorships. We get around that. Advertisers are looking for ways to differentiate their brands. If they can differentiate it in a premium environment like video and not just value it on the click-through they’re seeing tremendous results. It allows us to do like major television networks do such as product placements and drop-ins.”
H3 Publications publisher Dave House said Decline and Road magazines are up double digits over last year, and thinks the Web may have something to do with it.
“I think advertisers are getting a lot better value now because they’re getting the digital magazines, the digital subscriptions—all those add value,” House said.
Beyond diversity, beyond the Web, the root of this comeback still lies in the lasting popularity of the bicycle in comparison to other consumer products.
“Our bicycle division hasn’t felt the recession the way that our motorcycle and powersports publications have,” Hi-Torque’s Mesecher said. “Both Mountain Bike Action and Road Bike Action are up in ad sales over 2009.”