Cars, bikes, racing and driving have been a big part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Long before I had a drivers license, I read everything about cars, bikes, driving and tuning that I could get my pre-pubescent hands on. My bedroom was wallpapered with posters from the pages of Hot Rod magazine, and I subscribed to Car and Driver back when there was still such a thing as the Cannonball Baker Sea To Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. Through the years, I’ve subscribed to just about every two and four wheel publication you could possibly name, and I still get Road and Track, Car and Driver, Autoweek, Cycle World, Motorcyclist and Motorcycle Consumer News. With the exception of MCN, my subscriptions to all of the above magazines are set to expire in the next month or so, and I probably won’t renew any of them. Here are my reasons why.
1. The news is no longer timely. In the pre-internet days, magazines were usually the best source of current or breaking news. You could see new designs and get word of new stuff in the pipeline long before they arrived on the auto show floor, or even worse, on a dealer’s lot. Today, the stuff I read about in magazines is usually stuff I’ve written about, a month or so earlier. As the Rolling Stones so aptly put it. “Who wants yesterday’s papers?”
2. The quality of print journalism has steadily declined over the past five years. I used to subscribe to the print mags because I admired the journalists who wrote for them. Peter Egan is still one of my role models, and I can only imagine what having a career like David E. Davis would have been like. Csaba Csere told things like they were, and if he hated a car then chances are good I wouldn’t like it much, either. Somewhere along the line things changed at the print mags; today’s articles are generally farmed out to contributing writers, who make a fraction of what the old guard used to earn when ad sales were brisk. These contributing authors may or may not know as much about cars as I do, so why am I paying money to learn the same stuff I can get from a manufacturer’s press release? The prose is gone, the wit is gone and the intelligence has left the building.
3. Different magazine, same content. Have you looked at Cycle World or Motorcyclist lately? How about Road and Track versus Car and Driver? The magazines feature exactly the same reviews, of the same vehicles, written by different authors but reaching the same conclusion. If I’m never going to be able to afford a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, do I really want to read two reviews and a road test shootout in the same month? Do I really need six different people, at two magazines, telling me what the best choice in a four door, four cylinder commuter car for under $25,000 is? Magazine content used to be fresh, but it’s gotten to be like last week’s meatloaf; you’re only going to consume it when there’s nothing else around.
4. I get all the snark I need without paying for a subscription. Car and Driver likes to use the editorial section to beat down readers with a differing opinion. I can read the same thing on any internet message board, with the same amount of wit and intellect, without having to pay for it. Let me give you a hint, magazine editors: now’s a really good time to start sucking up to subscribers, because you don’t have a lot of extra to spare.
Eventually, I see print mags going the way of milkmen, doctors who make house calls and TV repairmen. When enough people figure out that “free” isn’t a business model, expect to see online magazines charge subscription prices. Hell For Leather already does, and I keep telling myself that I need to buck up and buy an online subscription to the best online motorcycle magazine. Now that I’ll be saving some money on the print mags, it seems like a sensible thing to do.
So here’s the question: am I right or wrong, and which print mags do you still get in your mailbox?