When we stopped creating a monthly print issue last August after nearly 35 years of bringing the noise to newsprint, along with a massive pile of monthly print and distribution costs, we said goodbye to the primary way our readers supported our selfless dedication to the cause of thrashing press bikes and deep thinking in the name of independent moto-journalism.
We had subscribers all over the United States, true, but we also had a lot of folks in the greater Bay Area that could have just as easily wandered into their local motorcycle establishment to grab a copy for free each month. That meant a lot—it was like a monthly high five with a couple bucks attached, intended to support our little contribution to the world, whether that contribution is motorcycling stories, motorcycle reviews, laughs, motorcycle industry insights, crazysexycool projects, or whatever else it may mean to each reader.
Ardent fan and very concerned former subscriber: “Now that you’re online-only, how do I subscribe?”
Smart-ass, generally confused editor: “Just go to the website now and then to read stuff.”
Former subscriber: “But I want to have CityBike sent to me!”
Editor: “Well, you can sign up for our Dispatch email newsletter. That’s sorta like a new issue. We send it once or twice a month, when I have my shit together.”
Former subscriber: “How much does it cost?”
Editor: “It’s free, just like CityBike has always been.”
Former Subscriber: “I don’t like that. Please allow me to give you some money.”
Of course, we’re also still getting occasional comments like “Oh man, I just found out you stopped printing! Say it ain’t so! I love CityBike—how will I go on?!?!” Which raises the question: if you’re such a big fan, how are you just finding out, like six months later, that we’re not doing the print thing any more?
Anyway, it’s no secret that the Sisyphean enslavement and subjugation to distribution platforms required for successful content creation in this modern louder-and-dumber age piss me off. Back in September, I dialed in from my rented hospital bed in the main conference room here at World Headquarters for an opiate-fueled, post-crash chat with the folks at Motorcycles & Misfits about a variety of topics, including the end of CityBike in print. In that conversation, I let slip that I’d love to stop jacking around with platforms like Facebook and just focus on doing cool stuff and writing cool stories. Sorry, I meant creating content. To wit: “We need to grow our audience, enhance our distribution, blah blah blah, right? There’s a part of me that wants to just not be on Facebook and let people find our stuff and tell their friends about it.”
Similarly, I fantasize about not having ads on CityBike.com, which is about as realistic as content creators quitting Facebook. Yes, our print edition was funded by ads, but it was mostly local moto-centric businesses we had relationships with in one way or another—we were all part of the same community, so to speak. Ad networks don’t give a shit about quality, even if metrics like time on site and pageviews per session pay lipservice to the lofty goal of engaging stories that are more than just regurgitated press release fluffery.
We’ll stay in those dysfunctional relationships for now, posting stories to our Facebook page to help get the word out about our latest pieces (which someone once told me is the word real journalists use for stories) and reluctantly accepting the evils of ad server code on the website. But we’re way more focused on doing good stuff than building an audience. Most of that (hypothetically) good stuff gets funded out of our own pockets these days, what with the glory days of print being over.
Putting the Fun into Funding
I’ve been watching how other publications that I enjoy and respect, like the California Sun and KatyKatiKate, get readers involved in paying the bills. (Trigger warning: if the words “feminist werewolf” send you into an ALL CAPS RAGE and you think words like “social justice” are only useful for insulting “snowflakes,” you’re gonna want to not click that KatyKatiKate link, snowflake.)
The Sun, which is free like CityBike, offers readers who wish to support their efforts a subscription-esque membership and also accepts one-off donations, but recently announced they’ll be incorporating ads to their extremely informative daily newsletter. I know that the Misfits, of the aforementioned Motorcycles & Misfits, have had some success putting the fun into funding with Patreon, but despite urging by head Misfit Liza, I have never seriously considered Patreon an option for CityBike—we’re already doing stuff here at CityBike that a lot of “creators” would use to build patronage tiers. It’s kind of our thing.
A recent post by the Kate-wolves altered my perspective on Patreon. Despite the occasional butthurt from a small segment of readers when we bring unavoidable facets of life like politics and equality into discussions about and around motorcycles—which has been part of our thing since the beginning—we’re not typically looked at in the same light as a “blog about feminism and social justice.” But Katie’s announcement regarding patron-only content convinced me to rethink Patreon as a potential platform for reader support:
“If I’m doing my job here, then I’m providing you with jokes you laugh at, observations that make you think, stories that make you feel, and a little something to tuck in your pocket or chew on as you go about your day. If I’m doing my job, then you value my work. And if you value my work and have the ability to literally VALUE it, then you do that on Patreon or Paypal. And I’m incredibly grateful for you.
“Full disclosure: I’ve experimented with producing patron-only content in the past. But it always gave me an icky feeling, even as it was a move that a lot of friends and advisors thought was smart. And as I reflected on what I wanted this community to be in 2019, it quickly became obvious that patron-only content would be left behind in the festering pustule that was 2018. I’m done with paywalled access and patron-only content. If that’s a deal-breaker for you as a patron, that’s cool, but it’s nonnegotiable for me. All the content is for everybody, regardless of their ability to pay.”
That bit about “all the content is for everyone” really resonated with me—it’s perfectly aligned with what CityBike has always been. Like the stickers on our old red racks said, “It’s about motorcycles. It’s free. Take one!”
Weren’t We Gonna Talk About Supporting CityBike?
All this came about because we’re going to launching, or publishing, or whatevering something kinda special by the end of this week—stay tuned and all that. Working on that project really hammered home the massive amount of work we have and will continue to put into Ye Olde CityBike, and it seemed like a good time to attempt to answer the constant question of “how are we gonna pay for all this,” as well as readers’ requests to let them help out with the cause.
We’ll still have ads on the site. We’re working on another project to make the ads we show better—and frankly, pay better. But we’ve also cooked up a couple options for readers who want to contribute to the independent moto-journalism revolution in a material way, beyond simply reading and sharing stories: Patreon and Paypal mainly, but also Amazon. If you’re so inclined, here’s where to make it happen.
(Just kidding. We’ve shut down these donation programs, so this button just reloads this page now. But we’ve left it here so you can click it if you like.)