I finally believe the press that the Canadian Motorcycle Industry is swirling down the drain of an economic downturn. The symptoms of an ailing industry have increasingly affected Canadian online media as motorcycle companies close regional offices, as press fleets dwindle and as tension over perceived damage to test bikes increases. For those of us publishing on the web exclusively, the situation has worsened, as Rob Harris of CMGOnline.com, points out in his editorial CMG Call to Arms, which reveals the massive cash injection of Canadian print publications are receiving from the Harper Government to assist their move from print to the web.
The $70M 2010/11 Aid to Publishers fund is available from the Federal Government exclusively to print publications, and allows those receiving this tax-payer treasure trove to apply the money to a number of eligible activities, most notably, “Web site development and enhancement”.
To quote Harris’ piece, “Canadian motorcycle magazines got a substantial chunk of cash this year; Canadian Biker: $58,894, Cycle Canada: $111,741, Inside Motorcycles: $51,365, Moto Journal: $63,548, Motorcycle Mojo: $19,835. There was a total of $305,383 being handed out to my print-only competition and any or all of it now eligible to be used to develop their web presence.”
Now, you would expect a Conservative government that is big on small business, would step up and keep the capitalist playing field level, but there truly is no equivalent grants or funding for online only publications.
So now magazines that were content to rest on their laurels rather than innovate themselves into the next generation of publishing are reaping vast rewards for their laziness and unwillingness to compete with online media. Those rewards are not simply monetary.
Over the 15-year run of CMGOnline.com and the 9-year run of OneWheelDrive.Net our respective teams have been forced to repeatedly attempt to educate the Canadian Motorcycle Industry of the pros and cons of Internet versus Print advertising. And, trust me the repeated compare and contrast would be a truly exhausting battle if it didn’t feature such sadly humorous gems as,
“We’re trying to reach a younger more urban audience.”
“So you’re going to advertise on the web and create a social media initiative?”
“No, we’ll stick with print advertising.”
While it’s more mature and robust sibling, the auto industry, has moved on to embrace the cost effective nature of social media and web advertising the motorcycle industry has stayed put in the print realm nearly refusing to adapt. Not even the argument of economics has motivated the embrace of the new media when it’s pointed out that the cost of an online ad for a 6 month run is less than a full page run for a month in any major publication. Leave alone that online advertisements are truly audit-able, unlike print’s questionable estimates and assumptions of secondary readers.
There are of course notable exceptions to these statements. I’d like to thank Ducati and Honda for seeing value in our online efforts, and providing support beyond the supply of test product, where so many others fail to.
That is the crux of the issue, is that the Harper Government’s assault on internet publishers could be survived, if the motorcycle industry saw value in the reach online media outlets offer.
Most manufacturers greedily take advantage of the “free” coverage online media provide to their products be it in tests or advertisements masquerading as press releases. This is done without acknowledging the uncomfortable truism of print or online publishing; editorial coverage does not exist without advertising support. At least, that would be the case in a free-market economy where the government doesn’t stamp on the throat of one media to favour another.
Advertising, for better or worse, indicates the value placed on coverage by the manufacturer, regardless of the actual effectiveness of the advertisements. Face it, no one ever bought a bike because they saw a shiny ad glittering with marketing claims. In the end without that advertiser support, media exposure, which is an integral part of reaching consumers disappears – along with the sales that coverage generates.
This is where the motorcycle industry does itself a disservice, because most manufacturers have missed the chance to groom motorcycle media. A pro-active approach would see manufacturers actively working with media outlets that are sympathetic to their product, niche or simply motorcycling as a whole. The overall impression most online journalist have in Canada is that manufacturers regard them as an irritant and barely necessary evil.
Part of this attitude comes from our’s being an enthusiast industry. The manufacturers trust that their media are motorcycle enthusiast, and if a few test products are thrown our way, we’ll be excited and write about them. It is a good, safe, and abusive bet. One that sees the industry use up its media advocates and supporters.
The really sad part of this equation is that the innovation, which has consistently been the hallmark of online media, will disappear also. Web video will strive for corporate mediocrity, iPhone Apps won’t be published until the market is utterly proven and safe, Kindle will be ignored for similar reasons, the government supported print-dinosaurs will lumber on thinking a forum is the peak of social media, and motorcycling will not reach its full online potential. Until a new wave of naive onlines try to make a go of it only to be used up and spat out.
The overall result though is a perfect storm. Small web publishers with limited support are facing large magazines who are now flush enough to buy up first run freelance articles, hire up staff “groomed” by online magazines and can stamp their feet enough that onlines aren’t invited to critical (or any) press launches, all of which is happening in conjunction with a hard economy for online publishers.
Filed in the category of “Thank You for Small Favours”, at least this unfair sluicing of tax dollars into the print media pig-trough will lend some validity to the web in the eyes of a groaningly slow to adapt Motorcycle industry. The question is, will any of the innovators survive that long, or will the Motorcycle Industry and Harper Government continue to support mediocrity rather than risk the brave new world of the internet. The sad thing about that last thought; it was as valid in 2001 as it is a decade later.