A Level-Headed Analysis Of The Great Publishing Mystery Of 2006

July 8, 2011

It’s Tour time, and that can mean only one thing: everyone is making light-hearted observations about cyclists, regardless of whether they like cycling or not. Not me, though. I’m all out of funny this week, thanks to a chronic lack of sleep, an influx of extra-curricular work and probably the biggest IT disaster I’ve ever experienced in an office environment (you don’t want to know – trust me). So I won’t be joining in with the TdF ROFL-fest, thankyouverymuch. Instead, like Romain Feillu frantically running backwards while trying to flag down a team car, I am going to draw attention to myself by going in the opposite direction. That’s right: in the grand tradition of the internets, I shall now take a serious, analytical look at a phenomenon and then blame it all on a convenient scapegoat.

My Big, Serious Analysis relates to the circulations of three cycling magazines over a decade-long period. I spotted the figures sellotaped to the wall of a certain well-known cycling brand’s office more than a year ago, so I immediately took a photo and promptly forgot about it until I found the picture languishing on our hard drive last week. I’m not going to tell you which office it was, but anyone can probably get these figures quite easily. I should mention, however, that I don’t have an association, paid or otherwise, with any of these magazines.

That's it – squint. Or click to make it bigger. It's up to you.

I’ll ignore the mountain bike mags on the right as I don’t know a ruddy thing about them. What interests me are the three road titles: Cycling Plus (Men’s Health on wheels), Cycle Sport (professional cycling news) and Cycling Weekly (a mishmash of the two, with a dash of domestic racing coverage). At first glance, their fortunes seem as divergent as their subject matter. By 2009, Future Publishing’s Cycling Plus had more than doubled its circulation of 2000. The industry’s technical term for this is: HOLY CHRIST. By contrast, IPC’s Cycle Sport lost almost a quarter of its readership in the same period. The industry’s technical term for this is also: HOLY CHRIST. Yet perhaps more surprising is Cycle Sport’s sister mag Cycling Weekly, whose figures have held remarkably steady. So much for its supposed terminal decline – but you can’t believe everything you read on internet forums, can you?

But now look at what happens in 2006. C+ experiences an annual year-on-year increase of only 0.61% while CS loses a whopping 10.53% – but CW goes up 7.16%. All of these are record numbers for the period. So what the flipping hell happened in ’06 to cause these weird jolts?

Well, it was the first full year of Lance Armstrong’s retirement 1.0, which probably explains why CS’s decline only begins in ’06 (sales were steady up until then, with a healthy rise in ’04). But it was also the year Floyd Landis, er, finished the Tour in the fastest time. Post-Tour editions proclaimed him the winner, but he had already tested positive by the time the copies left the printers. (If I remember correctly, even C+ put Landis on the front – an unusual move, given that its cover stars are usually anonymous amateurs.) The internet had made bike mags seem out-of-date before, but never quite so conspicuously, and I think some readers, particularly those of CS, may have been turned away for good. But perhaps some of them also picked up CW more frequently to find out the latest on the twists and turns of his case, which would at least explain the magazine’s biggest annual circulation rise during the decade.

So there you have it. Everything is Floyd’s fault. And Lance’s. Or maybe not. Perhaps it’s fairer to say that big cycling stars can have wildly varying and unpredictable effects on each magazine’s circulation – and there’s nothing mags can do about it unless they choose to ignore them. Which is what, by and large, C+ seems to have done.

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