Now Even In The Automotive & Motorsports Niches…Print Media Is Dead

Nook Magazine
Nook Newsstand Billboard Ominously Perching Above Magazine Rack at Barnes & Noble

We all know traditional print media is dying, but I never thought it was so close to the end of the line until this week. My sister texted me that the product my Father has been working on for the last 3 years which we are about to launch ( was featured in the latest issue of GM High Tech Performance. I had to head out for some errands anyway, so I figured I’d grab a copy while out and take some pictures of it for our website and facebook page. This task was easier said than done. Mind you I haven’t bought alot of magazines the last couple years as I am a web guy who knows all the popular car websites and I have an iPad. I live just outside of Nashville and went to a Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target in my neighborhood. I  finally broke down and went to a Barnes & Noble nearly a half hour away in Murfreesboro, TN and found no copies of this magazine.  They did confirm that the magazine shipped and would be there on Thursday. But I wanted it NOW!

Even though tons of newspapers and magazines are going out of business, in my experience the automotive & motorsports markets or niches traditionally lag behind the mainstream about 5 years.  Which I’ve always felt was odd in a sport or hobby that is so technical. But after my 2+ hour magazine hunt proved fruitless, I believe those 5 years are now up.  I finally just texted my sister to see if she would loan me the magazine for my photos. Basically my conclusion is that unless you are one of the top 2 or 3 most popular general automotive magazines, you’re no longer going to be on display at any mainstream stores. You HAVE to be subscriber, and advertiser supported and have a killer website to survive. The website is now more important than the print publication and if you really want to remain in the “Magazine” business you NEED to be in the iTunes, Nook & Kindle stores. It is no longer optional or up for debate.

My Industry Experience

As Internet director for the International Hot Rod Association from 2002-2010 I managed the web properties and took IHRA into the world of MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and I even made sure @IHRA was the first Motorsports sanctioning body on Twitter. I took our bi-weekly publication Drag Review Magazine online at the end of 2007 using a print to web service called BlueToad. We still printed the magazine, but I really lobbied with management to take it online. After we started using BlueToad for the web magazine, the iPhone, Android phones, and of course the “revolutionary” “magical” iPad debuted and got traditional publications excited and talking about it as their savior. Shortly after IHRA started using BlueToad they had taken all of their customers’ publications and made them touch friendly for mobile devices. That was a huge plus.  BlueToad now also offers dedicated apps for publications to bring them into the iTunes appstore, Newsstand, and Android Market. I left the IHRA following the 2010 race season. Without getting too specific I do recall that the readership of the online version of Drag Review was fast closing in on the tipping point of surpassing the print version’s readership with a lot less overhead in both time and price.

In 2004 I also made a deal with motorsports classified site to move our classified ads from the magazine to the web before we lost that revenue stream like so many other publications did. Craigslist killed the easy money classified revenue stream in Newspapers and local “trader” type publications. RacingJunk is now a 24/7 global motorsports marketplace. Not only are classifieds dead, swap meets are dying too.  Racing Junk, it’s competitors and vibrant enthusiast  community sites (forums) have really put the hurt on classified ads and display ads in the automotive niches. Web banner advertising may require more clicks, but it is certainly measurable, and you can speak directly to your customers.

Silver Lining

Blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter are here to stay.  YouTube and other online video options are fast replacing the traditional network and cable models. There is still a place for traditional print style publications, but that place is the iPad and Kindle. Everything is going mobile and away from the desktop. Smartphones & Tablets will become the dominant computing and media consumption environment for the masses. The disruption has already happened and right now we are heading into the next golden age of content. Anyone who wants to talk about their interests online, can do so and reach the entire world instantly and via a mobile device. Publishing has been permanently democratized.

The silver lining I see especially for the automotive, motorcycle, powersport, and motorsport enthusiast niches is that alot of the new professional and labor of love publications saw that the writing was on the wall a while ago and got a head start. There are big general automotive blogs like Autoblog & Jalopnik. In the niche space there are companies like PowerTV Media,  who has built a network of 8 sites (so far), and have a robust offering of online display and video advertising options for the performance and aftermarket industry. They also boast nearly 700,000 facebook fans for their properties, which really boosts their syndication. Also is a bright spot for the future of hot rodding. There are a ton of other great enthusiast blogs, forums, and other websites that fill the needs formerly filled by print magazines. They have risen to power using great daily content, user generated content (comments, forum posts, photos, videos, etc.),  apps, online video, social media syndication, and truly measurable advertising systems.

Source Interlink Media (Formerly Primedia, Formerly Petersen), owner of GM High Tech Performance and almost every major print automotive publication, has been in the web game for a while now too, but I’m not convinced they have that technology first focus. It seems to still be about print subscriptions. But they have enough of a following and the power to switch gears to a technology first mindset, and could probably do very well.

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Jeff Lee

Jeff Lee is a technology entrepreneur and car enthusiast living in Nashville, TN

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