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.