Superbike Planet recently noted that Hearst has put Cycle World on the block. Regular readers will note that I thought Hachette wanted to unload CW a couple of years ago, when they sold off a few other 'enthusiast' publications. Instead Hachette moved CW into its Bay Area-based Jumpstart Group, which effectively positioned CW magazine to become a subsidiary of CycleWorld.com.
After Andy Leisner took over the publisher's duties, Cycle World's sales guys pitched their advertisers on a grandiose plan to use Jumpstart's tech and new media skills as the foundation for a much more modern business model, across print, web, events, social media and what-have-you. But all bets were off when Hearst purchased Hachette's magazine titles en-masse a few months ago. Then, I wondered if Hearst was really casting a vote of confidence in the magazine category as a whole, acquiring all Hachette's American pubs, or whether Hearst was really pulling a sort of leveraged buyout - picking up (literally and figuratively) a few glamour titles like Elle, while planning to spin off scores of niche pubs like Cycle World.
Well, the second shoe's dropped if CW is for sale. This is almost certainly not good news for the venerable bike mag and its staff. A big media umbrella like Hachette or Hearst would certainly play a role in attracting non-endemic advertisers. I never got the feeling that CW had really committed to the changes that would have been required for that 'new, improved' business model to work out. Nor do I know what's been going on there behind the scenes. But a big company with a strong new media bench - and the deep pockets needed to invest in a new model and prove it before selling a bunch of ads - would make it easier to avoid extinction in a very fast-evolving media environment.
I've been around a few magazines as they were sold off. I was writing for Motorcyclist around the time it changed hands. That whole business has been picked up and dropped almost as frequently as the magazine; in the last decade or so it was sold by Petersen to EMAP, sold by EMAP to Primedia, and sold by Primedia to Source Interlink. I also wrote for Bike, Classic Bike, and Performance Bike when they were sold by EMAP to the Bauer conglomerate. It's pretty much always a bean-counter's deal, with all new buyers arriving with the same mindset -- "I can cut costs and increase profitability." No bean counter thinks of editors, writers, and photographers as content creators; they think of the editorial department as a cost center only.
As Brian Catterson; he jumped from CW to Motorcyclist, going from a magazine with stable ownership and a large staff, to a title that had the fat, then the muscle, and finally the bone trimmed by successive new owners. Cat actually does a good job without much help. Cycle World's probably spending triple the editorial salaries to produce a marginally superior publication.
If CW is incredibly lucky, it will be purchased by a real angel investor who wants to underwrite the migration of the CW brand to new media platforms. (The way audiences consume information is changing, and publishers need to change their relationship with readers to keep pace, even if right now, it's hard to even write a coherent business plan which even offers an avenue to profit.) If things go as they usually do, the news that CW is for sale bodes ill for the staff and for American motorcyclists. Love it or hate it, it's been the motorcycle magazine of record for years.
But that could all change soon.