Car and Driver magazine sent out a note this morning informing people that, yes, they were going to cut their 12 annual issues to just six issues. And, yes, they’ll be charging you the same amount. This joins the long list of pretty much awful news about media because media, as we know it, is dying. The good news is you can save it.
Yeah, this is going to be a plea to become a member. Please do that. If you love The Autopian and can afford to support it I hope you will do it. No one else is going to do the hard work of figuring out what an “Ion Flush” is while also buying terrible, terrible vans and writing about it.
The sad reality is that I know way more journalists who have lost jobs than gained jobs in the last few years. In just the last two weeks we’ve seen the venerable and important (to me at least) Pitchfork get folded into GQ and, of course, this resulted in a bunch of layoffs. And then Sports Illustrated, the biggest name in sports journalism for the entire time I’ve been alive, laid off almost its entire staff. Plenty of sites I love feel like hollowed-out versions of themselves.
There was a sense when I was a young blogger that we, as bloggers, were going to be the undoing of journalism. This didn’t turn out to be the case as blogs and bloggers, as much as anyone, are susceptible to the same negative pressure created in the marketplace. It’s easy to point to social media and, especially, Facebook, as being responsible for the death of your favorite websites. There’s some truth to that, but it wasn’t primarily journalists clamoring to give up all their content to Facebook. It was the money.
And, of course, private equity is bad for journalism. It’s almost impossible to argue otherwise (many of the writers here left a site that was ruined by private equity ownership and is rumored to be looking to dump some of its assets). Sports Illustrated was, indeed, “choked out by private equity morons” who thought that they could do better because they went to The Wharton School or whatever. But Sports Illustrated had already been a troubling case before that when it was owned by a major establishment media company.
Both Car and Driver (Hearst), which just announced the reduction in issues, and Pitchfork (Conde Nast) are part of media companies that are more than a century old. The Washington Post is already owned by one of the world’s richest men and it’s been reducing staff at a quick rate. So it can’t just be private equity.
I’ve worked for numerous media companies over the last few years as an employee or a contractor/consultant and there were always two major problems:
- Advertisers were the target instead of readers/subscribers.
- The people who were responsible for making the money didn’t know, or didn’t care, about the journalism.
Look at pretty much any outlet, automotive or otherwise, and see if that tracks. It probably does. Go to an established car magazine’s website and see how easy it is to actually see the articles behind all the ads. How much content is there and how much of what you see is about awards that are essentially made up to get more money from advertisers and not inform the reader (even if the journalists often do a great job of informing the reader).
I’m always trying to limit the number of ads on this website but there’s immense external pressure to add more because that’s what advertisers expect. Publishers are penalized in our current system for putting fewer ads on the website.
Then there are the newer-style automotive outlets that try to overwhelm Google News and other platforms with multiple articles on the same thing written not by experts, as we try to do, but by a young and inexperienced writer who is happy to take $20 for an article. Expertise is expensive. I’m not going to name the sites, but you’ve probably clicked on their links. Ask yourself: Do you know anything about those authors? Artificial intelligence is only going to make this worse, of course. There are plenty of sites using AI to support their written journalism.
When layoffs hit they sometimes cut sales staff and admins but they pretty much always let go of journalists, which tells you all you need to know about how much the journalism matters to the people who make the decisions.
If this is depressing to you, here are some things you can do about it. I’m going to put it in terms of supporting The Autopian but it’s true for other sites as well, including Defector, Aftermath, and many others.
- Become a member! The more money we make from membership the less we have to get elsewhere. It’s that simple. Right now we have about 1,100 paying members and they cover about 10-15% of our overhead, which is almost entirely staff. Our goal is to get to 20-30% as it allows us to deal with shifting ad markets.
- Subscribe to our newsletter. It’s the thing we most own in terms of our audience.
- Follow us on Flipboard, Apple News, Google News, et cetera.
- Bookmark our homepage!
That’s the big stuff. It’s no guarantee that we’ll last forever, but our goal isn’t to try and squeeze out a revenue multiple in order to sell this thing in two years. Our goal is to make the world’s best car website, make it every day, and do it in a way that’s sustainable for everyone involved forever.