Automotive Magazines - A Dying Breed, and What's Next?
It’s August; eight months out of the twelve that make up a year. We’re already halfway done with 2020 yet it feels like longer. At least we do not have to wait long to say adieu to what has been quite a rollercoaster of a year.
No doubt many of us were looking forward to car events and shows this year: whether it be planning out itineraries or working hard to get our builds show ready, but its sad to say this year has put everything on hold. The latest casualty? In case you haven’t heard: SEMA 2020.
I was honestly surprised SEMA was confident in pushing forward to make this year’s show a reality, but given the spike in infection cases in Las Vegas recently, and with many attendees from all corners in the globe unable to venture beyond their front doors, this year’s show would be relatively unfulfilling given the limited number of people who would be able to attend. Even with all the social-distancing safety measures, hand sanitizers, and cleaning operations in the world on standby, a major event like this is regrettably, not justifiable to host given the current situation now.
In other news, Joey Lee of Stickydiljoe announced his annual Eibach and
‘The Chronicles’ anniversary meet, which usually happens around SEMA time, is cancelled for this year. The same goes for Wekfest Japan, now aiming to do their round of the show in 2021. And around this time, Monterey Car Week in California would have kicked off. Sadly, it is one of many events that have fallen victim to cancellation.
We’re seeing all kinds of things we enjoyed and honestly, taken for granted coming to an end this year. But no doubt, one that has been hurt the most, has to be print media.
Specifically, automotive print media, especially magazines. It’s a topic no one really gives much attention, but honestly, I wish more people did. There is no denying: print media, whether it be newspapers you use to wrap up flowers with or that one issue of Time Magazine you picked up at the airport news-stand as in-flight entertainment, has been on a steady decline. As more people rely on websites, and lately, social media, to get their news firsthand, magazines across the board have experienced a drop in readership, sales, and general attention.
It’s not necessarily due to laziness or people not willing to pay the price for print, but the fact your smartphone or computer, can always receive the latest news or stories quicker than a printing press can produce. Not to mention, most feature editors now, through their computers, can spend one day typing up a feature, and have it ready; photos and all, by the following.
Covid-19 has only amplified this even more. With no one really able or willing to go out, it is no longer economically sustainable for many print media companies to continue publishing physical copies, when no one is out there to buy them.
Which has led to more magazines furloughing staff, abruptly announcing a shift to digital-only, or just dying out. Unfortunately, that is the reality of our digital, socially-distant age. And no one has felt this pinch even greater than automotive magazines. Automotive print media had already been facing a tough decline since the last decade. Think about it: when was the last time you saw your usual go-to car magazine for sale on the newsstand?
Last year was particularly troubling: SuperStreet Magazine, Automobile Magazine, and Hot Rod Deluxe, to name a few were all shuttered by head publisher TEN (The Enthusiast Network). That is just a sample of nineteen other magazines they announced would cease publishing at the end of 2019.
Some of the bigger names like SuperStreet were able to continue delivering new content, albeit solely on their website and social media profiles from now on, but for many niche magazines, most were unable to survive, even on a digital platform, and have died out entirely.
While some major magazines such as Top Gear, Evo, and Car & Driver have been able to continue publishing physical copies, it is now a question of how long their borrowed time will last now. Advertising revenue can only sustain so much, combined with how many staff are willing to take a pay-cut to continue their job.
Which is a terrible shame. If you grew up over this last decade like me, you would have undoubtedly been shaped by many of the car magazines that cultivated our interest as car enthusiasts.
Reading a feature about a build online is fast and easy, but for a media creator like me, taking the time to read about someone else’s car, the effort they put into it, reading their spec sheet; in a special way, you could feel their passion about cars and what drove their build, through their word as you read through.
Seeing a physical spec sheet that lists every mod, from the exterior to the internals as well, reminded you that every piece that went into the car you see before you, matters.
Even the printed reviews about the latest model out in the market, or the magazine’s fleet test of multiple SUVs, hot hatches etc. were eye-catching for me. While anyone could do their research online when it came to shop for a new car, magazines communicated the same necessary information you needed to know: performance, interior quality, what unique features it had rivals did not, but with a combination of enticing photos that showed you these cars in action.
Think about the effort that goes into these photographs the magazine photographers slaved over to shoot, and fine edit to look good on print for an audience of many. If you recall from my introduction post, one of my biggest inspirations for my photography came from magazine photos. Especially rollers of sports cars on the race track or a winding road, to luxury models or classics on a rainy night.
I was drawn towards how photographers were able to communicate a certain mood or feeling based on their approach towards capturing a car on scene, along with their selective choice of shooting location and editing style, that made the images aesthetically pleasing. To this day, much of my photoshoots I aim to do in interesting or eye-pleasing locations; inspired by photos I remember from past print magazine features I read.
For an aspiring photographer like myself back then, I was enticed to keep purchasing print issues (stopping by the local Barnes & Noble, or Target multiple times to see if the latest issue was in stock), not only for inspiration as I started to learn the ropes, but also to have physical copies of images I felt were so good; not even seeing them on my computer was enough.
Even in an language other than English, I was still attracted to attempting to read through car magazines originally published in countries such as Japan. As I like to refer back to: in some cases, photographs can help tell a story words cannot, or act as a universal language that allows them to convey their intended message, no matter the spoken language of the reader.
It probably will be something this generation, and future generations of car enthusiasts will not grow to understand; on how print media conveys a story about cars in its own unique manner, something that images and text on a website cannot come close to replicating. The fact that you could hold the media physically in your hands and have it displayed if desired, is a reader experience one has to feel firsthand. Especially if it is your car that is being discussed.
So with that in mind, what is next for car publications, and more importantly, the people behind them? There is no doubt social media has been a step forward for many: automotive journalists, publications, and photographers. Some have attempted to go digital with existing magazine issues, but given the current trends towards readership, that still is not enough to get people supporting this dying media format.
Those formerly responsible for copywriting and organising the layout for full-length print features, have likely found new jobs assisting with editing features that go live on websites. Editors have remained on board for many publications; some of which have their own designated social media profiles to help churn out more content for audiences. And of course, there is still a demand for photographers: their hard work may not distributed on paper as much today, but they will still be able to reach audiences around the world thanks to social media (some renowned photographers like Larry Chen, have even put up individual printed photos for sale online.)
But ultimately, the majority have expanded their content portfolio to include vlogs, YouTube videos for features and reviews, and social media posts on platforms like Instagram/Facebook, to promote new features that go live on their websites these days.
As mentioned by RJ Divera, former editor of SuperStreet Magazine (more known for a role as the Civic driver playing Gran Turismo badly in The Fast and the Furious) on a AMA reddit thread recently, “The way stories are told would have to evolve to make sure it captures a digitally savvy audience…. simply telling great stories about the manufacturers, tuners, builders, and car owners will always be of interest to other car fanatics.”
So maybe: for aspiring automotive journalists and content creators for automotive media, there still may be a future. Smaller, and probably a more difficult playing field to get your name out there, but there is still potential for the automotive media industry.
No matter what will be trending in the car scene five, ten, or twenty years from now, whatever we will be driving by then, there will still be plenty of stories about passionate owners and their lifestyle out there; just waiting to be told on a platform millions access everyday. With more technologies available to help deliver content, from YouTube channels for cinematographers to post features and reviews on the latest car show, to Instagram profiles allowing photographers and writers to promote their latest work to an audience worldwide, automotive media will still have relevance for a long time.
When I asked RJ on the same AMA reddit thread, about the future for those still keen to break into automotive journalism and media, he had this to say: “I've always felt that much of people's success depends on the networks that they are able to build throughout their lives. If you can prove that you can create content that people engage with, it opens the door to have discussions with a publisher for you to be a paid contributor. “
“Through time and with consistency, this will hopefully open doors for you and lead you to a point where you can make a living producing content for an industry, that I would assume you have much passion for.”
RJ’s words summarise the direction many aspiring content creators: Yes, one medium that many traditionally used to deliver onto may have closed down, but another has opened up online. If anything, it is more accessible and easier for anyone to be the next Jeremy Clarkson, Matt Farah, or Doug Demuro. In today’s world ever more dominated by the internet, anything is possible.
It’s just a matter of how you can prove your individual skill set and the potential your content has to offer, to the industry out there.