Featured Articles

Car Magazines: Living On Borrowed Time?

Posted in Rants & Raves by Kurt Ernst | March 4th, 2011 | 12 Responses |

Magazine stands probably don't have much longer, either.

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?

Our Best Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

12 Responses

  1. J D Stadler says:

    It’s funny, I only got my subscription to C/D last year because it earned me a bunch of reward points and I got a year for $6 (yup, 6 bucks). In these past 6 months, I’ve experienced everything you said. I read the content online about three weeks before the print mag comes in the mail. And yeah, this month someone even called them out for being douchebags in the ed. comments and, surprise, they responded with an equally douchey comment. Touche C/D…touche.

  2. Canrith says:

    I have only subscribed to a few, and either I made the wrong choices in subscriptions, or I’m extremely jaded against everything being judged against the latest and greatest Italian and then be knocked for gas mileage.

    All of the aforementioned problems about having already read it online a few weeks prior, to having the same articles written by a different author appear in my mailbox are included.

    But they do make nice pieces for your garage if they happen to cover your new car.

  3. RB says:

    Doesn’t anyone read in the bathroom anymore? ;)

    I get C&D, R&T, Motortrend and Automobile Magazines. An Ipad just won’t do bathroom reading justice. Having said that, I agree that some of the information is “old news”, but I still enjoy studying up on all the news and information and tend to ignore the opinion articles.


  4. inthebuff says:

    I get ESPN the Magazine. Why? Because if you sign up for ESPN insider on ESPN.com you get the magazine in the mail. I hardly every read it all the way through. There’s a couple of features that aren’t on the website, but for the most part there’s nothing new in there.

  5. Corey W says:

    I think these types of mags will transition themselves to an online world where the same “you heard it here first” mentality will go on. Magazines that thrive on current events or the inside scoop will suffer in the print industry, sure, but the magazines that feature vintage motorcycles or kustom kulture or any retro-based lifestyle content may stand a chance. I hope they do. What I hope happens is that media folk will step up to the competition and provide unique and carefully produced content. It’ll all come down to those who listen to their target audience as opposed to leaning on the fact that they once had a corner on the market.

  6. Big says:

    I think you’re right – print magazines are going to need to re-invent themselves or die.

    Journalism is changing, but at least some of us are perfectly prepared to pay for good writing – I suspect _some_ magazine will be able to adapt to new business models, but that large part of “the publishing industry” who’s skills lie in the “getting ink onto dead trees then getting the piles of dead trees into the customers hands” end of the current publishing industry are going to need to re-skill, and I suspect that’s a very large percentage of the people employed by “the industry”, so when the crunch comes it’s going to seem like the entire industry is dying.

    Working out good ways to earn money writing for websites is going to take some time, neither ad-supported or subscription/paywalled seem to be “right” yet. Flipboard on the iPad has replaced several of my regular magazine purchases, and there’s no real way for me to even offer to pay for the free content I get there.

    I think super narrow focus print publications may last longer than more generally focussed ones – the only magazine subscription I currently have is to MotoTech, a super tightly focussed motorcycle racing magazine – I can easily see that sort of specialist content weathering industry changes better than mass market mags, and I could also imagine them switching from physical to digital distribution much more easily than high volume (end hence much more invested in the printing/distribution side of the business) publications.


  7. David Lopez says:

    You are so right. Car magazines are on borrowed time. Cars to me now are computers with wheels. Add in the rising cost of oil. Makes going for a drive a luxury. I will stick to my vintage 1968 Honda CB350. No computers and I can afford to twist the throttle.

  8. Gerardo Isler says:

    Hey guys!! Do you carry your PCs,IPads,IPhones,etc wherever you go? I speak for myself but I have the cheapest phone with no internet and I can pass several days without being connected but I have tones of mags that I can read where I want anytime. Last, have ever got a virus reading a paper mag?

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Gerardo, I do indeed carry my phone with me everywhere I go, and I usually have a laptop with me if I’m on the road. I’ve never gotten a virus at any car-related site I’ve visited, so it begs the question: what kind of “magazine” sites do you surf that viruses are a problem?

  9. Mario Baroz says:

    I get Car & Driver, Road & Track, Automobile, Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Sport Rider, Motorcycle Classics, Forza, and I buy the Brit mags Performance Bikes and Bike Classic every month. Sure, some of the cars are the same and some of the conclusions are the same but the mags carry stuff you don’t and can’t find on the internet. When Alan Cathcart rides all the current MotoGP bikes at the end of every season, the stories are in the bike mags, not on the internet, the aformentioned Peter Egan is worth the price of R & T alone, you can’t get the exhaustive comparison tests on the interne that Sport Rider does so well, and I could go and on. Print mags still have a lot to contribute. And you don’t have to be sitting in front of your PC or laptop to access it. And really, only nerds would read a car/bike magazine on a smart phone. You can turn to the stories you want immediately without having to wait for your pages to load or whatever technical problem will inevitably crop up. Sure there not as timely, but the authors more often than not DO have a lot more experience than the average web author. Heck, ANYBODY can write a story on the web…who’s to say their information is any good? Print mags are still a viable and valuable asset to the performance vehicle industry. You better re-up your subscribtions!

  10. Taylor says:

    All good points. And like RB said, computers and such just don’t work well for bathroom reading.

    Automobile is the only “car” magazine I will buy and the only reason for that is that they currently have what I consider a fantastic staff of writers. They offer more than just car reviews and comparisons.

    Hell, I’ve even learned something from them. Thanks to Robert Cumberford I now know why I like a certain car looks instead of just “liking the way it looks”.

    For off-road, I don’t subscribe to any but I will buy one if an article catches my attention. Sometimes the tips in those mags are quite useful and it is easier to have a mag in the shop than a computer.

  11. Larry Enslen says:

    I currently subscribe to only one magazine – Motorcycle Mojo, but will pick the occasional hot roddish, bikeish or truckish mag off the rack. I dearly hope that magazines do not stop printing the paper version as I am a “to have and to hold from this day forth” kind of guy. So the printed material may be a WHOLE MONTH OLD.Besides, bathroom reading requires the posture that no lap top or smart phone can satisfy. As long as there is a quorum of subscribers and rack pickers there will be call for the printing of the touchy/feely auto mags