Opinion: Cycle Canada goes digital

We all knew it was coming, but it was hard all the same. Cycle Canada announced in September it will no longer print any more magazines on paper, and it’s already moved to an all-digital format. If it had survived in print to next year, it would have been 50 years old.

I didn’t get the notice. I always subscribe to my motorcycle magazines at the Toronto motorcycle show, where I chat to the editors at their booths and I hand over my $20 in cash without passing along my e-mail address. I think it’s important to show support; it’s also important to not ask for a freebie when money could be tight.

As Steve Thornton, CC’s contributing editor, noted in his last column, the magazine had become very late in its production. The April edition was two months past its deadline – too late to be relevant for some of the paid advertising it contained – and the May edition wasn’t ready until late in the summer. Cycle Canada was clearly in trouble. Rumours had it that the printer wasn’t paid and had held the published magazines to ransom. I called the President and Publisher, Jean Paré, last week to ask about this, but he didn’t return my call.

Money was tight in coming from Cycle Canada, and had been for a while. The Montreal-based company that bought it in 2012, Editions Jean Robert, cut the editorial budget to a quarter of what it had been under its previous owners and was notoriously late in paying contributors. I wrote a feature article for the magazine in 2013 and it took six months to be paid; other contributors sometimes had to wait longer. When I e-mailed the then-Editor, Neil Graham, to moan about this, he wrote back that “you’ll get your money, but I’m very, very sorry. If I were you I wouldn’t write a thing for us until you’re paid.”

It’s always been expensive to produce a print magazine, although funds are available from the Canadian government to help offset the costs. It’s particularly expensive now, because fewer people want to read anything that’s in print. Sure, some of us still like to sit down with a good book or a glossy mag, but most of us have found we prefer to skim news on our phones or screens, instead of the tactile experience of flipping pages. I’m no different. Right now, I’m reading the complete Game Of Thrones series entirely on my oversized iPhone, downloaded and paid for. I own the printed books, too, but I find it handier, and easier, to read a chapter here and there by just pulling the phone from my back pocket when the moment takes me. I’m 2,000 screens in to the 16,000-screen series and enjoying it immensely.

The irony is that when we ran the story of Cycle Canada’s move to an all-digital format, many commenters on social media considered the news to be the same as the magazine closing for good. “I will miss this magazine greatly and all its content and insight,” wrote Jonathan Lawrence on Facebook. “Too bad. It will be missed,” wrote John Hopper. And “Sign of the times unfortunately…but the days of reading Daytona racing results in June are long past,” added Doug Hunter.

But Cycle Canada isn’t ceasing publication. It’s become an all-digital magazine, which is where most people read their information these days. It’s going where the readers are and where the advertising money is, even if that money is more thinly distributed than it used to be. “Change can be destabilizing, I agree. It takes us out of our habits, our comfort zone. However, it is stimulating and adds a little spice to our daily lives,” wrote Paré to subscribers and advertisers. “Cycle Canada is transforming and improving, and it is with you that we wish to continue this great adventure. Thank you for your support!”

If the content is good, there’s no reason why a well-managed magazine cannot be successful online. Canada Moto Guide is a shining example of this: we haven’t printed a word in more than two decades, yet we’re stronger and more relevant now than we’ve ever been.

In its glory days under editor Bruce Reeve, Cycle Canada was recognized twice as the best magazine in Canada with a circulation of less than 50,000. When Bruce left, he joined the CBC to work for its online newsroom. He was succeeded for three years by Costa Mouzouris, who left to join us here as CMG’s chief bike tester, working online. Then Neil Graham took on the mantle as a wonderful love-him-or-hate-him writer and after he left, he founded his own website at thebluegroove.com, where his writing and thoughts are freely and widely available, online. Like it or not, our future is digital, and as Paré observes, “we have little choice but to open ourselves up to this reality.”

So I wish Cycle Canada well in its rebirth. More should be published about our passion of motorcycles, and if it helps to save some trees, so much the better. And who knows? Maybe we’ll start to see the Daytona results published more promptly at Cycle Canada – the day after they’re published here at Canada Moto Guide.

15 thoughts on “Opinion: Cycle Canada goes digital”

  1. Like others in the comments to this and the other article, I let my subscription lapse over the last few years. I wish I could say that I will renew for the online version.

    In retrospect it was a combination of factors, my changing interests and lack of content that appealed to me. At 54 my list of desirable bikes is shorter than it was, so if a road test isn’t really well written then I’m not reading it. All the editors at CC wrote interesting reviews, and Costa, Zac and Mark do so here.

    Where CC fell down for me was when it lost the verve (for lack of a better word) that led to stories about riding small commuter bikes into the Quebec outback, the annual Bad Wrap article, the Kawasaki Duckster photos, everything by Max Burns, and countless other articles or essays. In the days before the web they published race results, but at the same time also a short article about the events, and not just superbike but stuff like a regional trials event or enduro.

    Travel articles are always potentially interesting, but in the same vein as articles about competition I’m engaged by either the improbable or the possible, not so much the unobtainable round the world trip.

    Finally, unlike some I appreciate the work of ALL the capable writers from CC over the years, Cooper, Reeves, Knowles, Tate, Burns, Costa, Thornton, Graham, Booth and here at CMG with Mark and Zac. They all are skilled at their craft and their writing shows it.

    Quality will always draw customers. Hopefully online CC can recapture a whiff of what make it so good in the past.

    1. I often use the small (around 200cc?) cruiser tour through the logging roads of northern Quebec as an example of the insanity that they lost. Or the 2-up drag strip test of the CB900C nust to see if there really was a difference between high and low range. And there were so many others. I really do miss that. But I did continue to try to support the magazine through subscrirption.
      I’m 99% certain I’ll take out a digital subscription this weekend to see how it goess.

  2. Guess I’m old school. I have subscribed to Cycle Canada since its newsprint days, and always enjoyed hold the magazine in my hands to read it. I don’t seem to absorb information as readily from my phone.

    1. Same for me; CMG is the only “magazine” I am interested in reading online; possibly because that’s how CMG has always been for me, I have more than a couple of actual magazine subscriptions & really enjoy flipping pages. Reading on my cell is reserved for the dark bus ride to work (when I was doing that) or on break. Otherwise I am on a laptop with a decent sized screen (aging eyes like the larger format)

  3. I had a lifetime subscription to the Print version of Cycle Canada. I took the risk way back (30+ years?) when they offered it and despite everything they continued to deliver what was a free magazine for me at that point. I don’t know how many other people actually took that option but it gave me years of reading material. I hope they make the transition to online work for them. I contacted them to ask what it meant for subscribers like me but I haven’t heard anything back in over a week.

  4. Ah, Neil Graham and his musings of coffee makers and drill bits.

    What an effing goof.

    It was then that I cancelled, after subscribing since the late ’70s during the newsprint and tee-shirt ads days.

  5. “Canada Moto Guide is a shining example of this: we haven’t printed a word in more than two decades, yet we’re stronger and more relevant now than we’ve ever been.”
    Editor Mark, is the Forum well and truly dead ? Its been shut down for at least 2 days now, is it coming back or are its feet nailed to the perch ?

    1. We’ve put the Forum on hold, because it’s besieged by spam – bots for Russian women and penile enhancement. We were getting hundreds of bot posts a day and killing them off manually, but there’d be new ones posted before we’d finished killing the old ones. We could handle it when it was just one thread that was compromised, but once they leaked onto the other threads, the game was over. The plan is to kill it all off and then restart it in a more contributor-friendly way with a much more secure system, hopefully sooner rather than later.

        1. I think Mark more correctly answered the how. The why is that spam is profitable. Bots look for security weaknesses in forums, unmoderated comments on blogs, etc., and when they find them, they load it up with spam. They constantly use the very latest text algorithms and link obfuscation to fool the search engines such that the comments/posts rank higher on the search engines and increase the likelihood of an unwary user clicking on a link.

          Links can carry malware, offers of goods/services or even take one to sites that masquerade as other known sites with the intent of phishing usernames/passwords, CC numbers, etc.

          Men, especially, are very, very gullible with regard to promises of sex and stuff at prices that are too good to be true. That makes sites such as this, with predominantly male audiences, high-priority marks for spammers and other nefarious characters.

          Signed,
          A guy who has spent waaaaay too long in IT fighting this stuff

          1. So, you are saying Internal affairs was aware of this rogue policeman all along?!?!

            Sorry. By your third sentence, I drifted off and made up my own story …

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