by Mark Alker
February 23, 2012
We are just a few weeks away from sending issue 72 to the printers. It’s a landmark issue for us as so much is changing – and not just in terms of how the magazine will look once it lands on subscribers doormats but also in the way we are doing things behind the scenes.
So with the countdown to our relaunch starting to ring loud in our ears I thought I’d give you all an update and rundown of what our grand plans are and what you can expect from us in the future.
Firstly, why are we redesigning the mag?
Magazines are always redesigning themselves every few years – it’s part of trying to keep the look and feel of the magazine fresh and keep existing readers interested, but that’s not our primary reason. Our reasons are a response to two things: The economy and technology.
The economy is in the bin – this is not news to any of us. A result of this is the tightening of belts by pretty much everyone bar bankers, who are more worried about how empty their sub letted Swiss chalets are right now due to the price of the Swiss Franc (which is ironic as that’s pretty much their fault too – bet you never saw that one coming did you mr banker? eh? Ha!).
Anyway, the upshot of a tanking economy is that people don’t spend quite so much and one of the first things to go are the luxuries in life, and that includes magazines. So, we are not selling quite so many copies in supermarkets now as we once did. We are not alone in this – all publishers are having to come to terms with this reality.
The other factor is technology, and specifically phones, tablets and readers. 20% of visitors access this website using some kind of mobile device with iPhone users being the largest sector, iPad users not far behind.
We’ve had a 20% increase in subscription sales over the last 12 months too as a direct result of us combining our digital access system (premier) to all existing print subscriptions. Our aim has been that you subscribe once and get everything we have got, no matter what platform from print to tablet. If we develop some new way of delivering the magazine content then we bolt it in to your existing subscription. We don’t try and flog it to you as an ‘extra’. This seems to have worked. Our overall copy sales have stayed pretty level with new subscriptions off-setting the reduced high street sales.
So, what we have is a readership which is made up predominantly of subscribers. Now for a UK based mag this is quite unique and it has meant we can look at how we do things and make some nice changes…
Subscribers have technically already bought into the magazine for the next 12 months. This means plastering advertising in the form of coverlines all over the front of the mag is rather pointless. Coverlines are designed to catch the eye of the casual browser in the supermarket. That’s a very fast shrinking market so it doesn’t really make commercial sense pandering to it anymore when instead we can make the covers prettier and cleaner for our subscribers (and us – we love to make gorgeous mags as much now as we did when we started 11 years ago).
The decline in the high street has brought with it an unexpected financial benefit too. You see for every copy sold in a supermarket or newsagent there typically is another that ends up in a skip. To sell 10 copies from a shelf you have to stack up 20. It’s an odd quirk of retail psychology that empty shelves don’t sell. A single tin of beans will get left alone on an empty shelf whereas a fully stocked shelf encourages more sales of beans. This is why supermarkets constantly restock their shelves during the day. Full shelves sell – half empty shelves don’t. It’s the same with magazines and the end result is a 50% wastage of all magazines that get sent to the high street. Someone pays for those wasted copies that end up as pulp, and that’s us. But if we are selling fewer copies in the high street this means we are wasting less too. As a result we don’t have to print as many and we save money. Silver linings and all that. If you want a scary number, we typically spend between £35-40k per year on printing copies that end up being pulped.
So, having made the decision to stop chasing high street sales (not totally – you will still be able to pick up a copy of Singletrack in the high street, but there will be fewer copies to be had there) we can concentrate on our subscribers, since that is where our strongest area of growth is. We are reducing our supply of copies into the high street and taking the savings we make there and ploughing that straight back into much more productive areas like the paper stock of the magazine – The new issue is going to weigh in at around 550g compared to our existing 375g. We are also putting some of that saved money into editorial budgets to create better features with even better photography.
We are also changing the way we sell Singletrack. We firmly believe that the starting point for many mountain bikers is through good quality bike shops and that’s why we are concentrating on making Singletrack available in more of them. But it is more than a simple retail relationship we are trying to build with them. Rather than just deliver 10 copies of each issue to them along with an invoice, we are taking the subscription model that is working very well for us and creating a unique subscription package just for bike shops. Shops subscribe and we deliver them not just mags but also advertising and point of sale materials. In return they have to give something back to you the readers and so by flashing your new and improved Premier Subs card you will be able to be treated extra specially by them. The really good Premier deals offered by our dealers will be featured on our front page on a regular basis.
Fundamentally by working alongside dealers and offering them tools that work for them we are hoping to be able to bring more deals and benefits to our subscribers. End result – everyone wins! That’s the intention. If you are a bike shop reading this then yes, this last paragraph was blatant self promotion and if you are keen to find out more then contact firstname.lastname@example.org and ask him for a Premier Dealer pack.
And what about pricing? Well here’s the rub. We can’t produce a thicker, better magazine and distribute it to shops and subscribers for the same price we have done – even with the waste savings we are going to make. Something has to give and rather than beat about the bush any longer here’s what we are going to do.
The cover price of a single copy of Singletrack will be going up to £5.95! Yup! That much!
But not until issue 73. That means the first of the new, redesigned and fatter issues will be available to all shop buyers at the old price of £4.50.
The subscription price is going to rise by £5/year to £35, which is designed to cover the extra cost of postage that being a big, fat and heavy mag inevitably brings.
BUT, that’s not going to happen until the 2nd April, which does give everyone the chance to subscribe NOW at the cheaper price and benefit from all the above until April 2013. I can’t not say it… There’s really never been a better time to subscribe…. sorry!
So, there you have it. Singletrack is going to look better, feel heavier, with more and better content and be designed specifically for subscribers. Our goal is to make it available on whatever computer or mobile device you happen to use in addition to coming to you in print and we won’t charge you any extra. There’s going to be more content that only subscribers can access via digital supplements attached to the magazine and stories and features on this website. You can look forward to a fresh face on the website along with the relaunch issue on the 15th March.
Now… Any questions?