Who Pays for Your Magazine?

Who Pays for Your Magazine?

My wife was an avid reader of Gourmet magazine. She was disappointed when the magazine ceased publication a little over a year ago. It wasn’t that Gourmet was not popular – it had as many readers as before. But in the recession, ad revenues had declined
This points out how modern magazines are financed. Most of their revenue comes from advertisements. In fact, 2010 was a good year for magazines, not because readership increased, but because more car companies ran ads. The subscriptions play a minor role in the balance sheet, which is why you see so many “specials,” where you can subscribe for 50%, 70% or even 90% off the cover price. (More readers mean the magazines get paid more for the ads.)
Mainstream magazines contain just enough editorial content to keep you reading, and thus looking at the ads. With that business model, it also is obvious that the editorial content should not contradict the ads.
When the Detroit News a few months ago changed a car review after a major advertiser complained, many were shocked, but in the bike world, this is much more common. I write for other magazines from time to time, and last year, my editors changed an article I wrote. Why? I had criticized a material used in a bag that they were selling through their online shop.
Most of the time, however, this is more subtle. Modern magazines represent the industry, not the readers. (After all, it’s the industry who pays them, not the readers.) This means that certain questions just won’t get raised…
You rarely find a mainstream car magazine telling you that the quality of  many modern cars is lower than it was 20 years ago. (Toyota pays 30% less for the same parts today than they did 10 years ago. How do their suppliers make ends meet? By cutting corners.) Mainstream bike magazines rarely tell you that modern bicycles could be improved. (It wasn’t VeloNews or Bicycling who figured out that wider tires roll faster on real roads.)

None of this means that mainstream magazines are bad. They are what they are – vehicles created to make you look at advertisements. There are a few exceptions, among them Consumer Reports, which does not solicit advertising at all.

Similarly, Bicycle Quarterly tries to represent the interests of our readers, not of the bike industry. More than 90% of our revenue comes from our readers. Our income from ads has gone down in recent years, not so much because of the recession, but because of our honest reporting and testing. We don’t mind: We can afford to lose advertisers, because our readers, who pay our bills, appreciate honest reporting. And the growth in readership has more than made up for the lost ad revenue. Most of all, as cyclists, we see ourselves as partners, but not servants, of the bike industry.

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