Yep. Print is officially dead, for CityBike, at least.
But you know the old saying: “As CityBike goes, so goes the nation.” We fully expect The New Yorker and other die-hard standard-bearers, devotees to the printed page and long-form thought, to follow suit by the end of 2018. The writing is on the wall now. Or rather, the web.
It sucks. No other way to spin it, and I’m not going to indulge in blurring the facts to make it easier to stomach, like some meaningless corporate press release, 600 words of nothing.
Why? It’s probably obvious: economics and resulting priorities.
(Or, if you prefer, we’re doing it for the trees, man.)
Financially, print hasn’t worked for us in a long time. Consideration of this inevitability has been part of our internal routines since I took over in 2014, and the topic of what we do next has been an everyday discussion for the last year, maybe year and a half. My point of view has always been this: when CityBike stops working, we’ll stop doing it. Same applies to when it stops being fun or rewarding or whatever complex adjective is really required to describe the feelings associated with creating the mag, something that encompasses the near-constant, always-on busting ass balanced against the precious few moments of euphoria I get when viewing the final print file, and again when I take Big Vancy down to our printer to load up the pallet of mags under the cover of darkness.
Some amuse-douche will be chortling into his cappuccino about now: “Of course print doesn’t work, dumbass.” But the hackneyed “print is dead” is a gross oversimplification, dumbing down the surrounding issues to utter meaninglessness, and we don’t do that shit.
The more complex reality is that the motorcycling business ecosystem no longer supports CityBike’s print-centric efforts in the Bay Area financially, and in some cases, logistically. Shops close, dealerships get sold to what I can only call outsiders, owners whose connection to the community is often less real, more a fabrication of “events” designed to bring in potential customers. The remaining shops struggle to keep on keepin’ on in our increasingly brutal economic environment. Contacts at bigger, non-local companies change, over and over, and eventually the connection breaks. This all means fewer advertisers.
CityBike is free, and since we’re not the beneficiary of some mystical NPR-esque art-for-the-good-of-society program funding, or another slimy tentacle of investment and monetization for some multi-national media conglomerate Cthulu, this downward trend has very material effects. To paraphrase Bill Foster, the fucked-up protagonist in 1993’s depressingly prophetic tragedy, Falling Down, we aren’t economically viable.
CityBike is such an institution in the Bay Area (and beyond) that readers don’t realize we’re not a functional media company or whatever, not in any real business sense. Almost everyone I meet thinks the Wrecking Crew is a full-time staff, that the oft-referenced World Headquarters is an actual place. But we’re a small organization that isn’t even really an organization. We’re a band of true grit, real riders with “real jobs,” making the mag happen every month on top of all that.
With that in mind, our priority must be our website, our online presence. But even if our print business was still drowning us in dollar bills like the days of yore (hah!), there’s only so much time in the day, and we can’t do both well. If we don’t shift our efforts from the all-consuming print edition and focus completely on the web now, there will be no more CityBike.
Some of you are cueing up some version of “But it’s easy, just put your print articles online!” Please see the two paragraphs above: we gotta pay the bills, friend, and anyway, it’s nowhere near that easy. I’ve been extremely proud that, until now, we’ve continued to deliver a monthly publication when majors were switching to bi-monthly or quarterly, a publication that readers continually tell us rivals—or beats—the quality of the “real magazines.” That shit takes a lot of time.
Although the monthly production cycle over the last year or so has gotten breakdown-inducing at times, between ad agencies not paying, race promoters pissing on deadlines, and a constantly evolving pile of other snafus, I’ll miss print, intensely. There’s no replacement for all the creative work that goes into each issue, and honestly sometimes feels wasted on the newsprint-y paper we use. You really can’t do cool layouts online, not against any sort of deadline anyway. And I’ll miss the reader photos, random shots of a copy of the mag in some interesting place, Alaska or Japan or COTA or wherever. There’s some exceptional examples of these in “Tankslapper” in our August issue.
CityBike is now necessarily competing directly for readers in a world where clickbait bullshit rules; where big companies fund “content creation” solely to draw more eyes and dollars to their ecommerce websites; where it’s acceptable to announce free products that have arrived for review and then never actually run a review; where utterly inane, empty stories and barely-concealed brand pimping masquerade as articles; where posers and wannabes more interested in curated events, lifestyle pieces and the trappings of motorcycling—not riding—are the new normal; where accuracy and facts seems to have become irrelevant, as if motorcycling media is a microcosm of the fucking pathetic state of “real” media, of communication at large.
Fuck that shit. All of it.
I promise you right now, CityBike will never deteriorate to that. I said it a couple months back (Uneasy Rider: We’re Your Huckleberry): we’ll scuttle this motherfucker and go riding long before we’ll resort to factory-farming pageviews.
I’m not asking for money, and we’re sure not gonna start a “Save Moto-journalism!!!” GoFundMe campaign. But if you value what we do—our stories, our voice and irreverence, our no-bullshit swagger—please join us in our now-virtualized independent motojournalism revolution, once you’ve taken some time to process your grief at the end of our print edition, of course. Subscribers: we’ll be refunding the remainder of your subscription soon.