Motor Trend Turns 60

Motor Trend’s erstwhile editor-in-chief Angus Mackenzie has likened his pub’s 60th birthday to a second coming, and he wants us to believe there’s life left in the ‘ol girl for perhaps another sixty.

To be sure, MT has had a great run as a solid fixture among car freaks across many decades, admins, more than a few wars, and untold carnage in the auto industry (how many pub’s can claim that?). Though MT is not alone where Road & Track can claim similar kudos thanks to founder John R. Bond’s 1949 vision parallel to MT’s kingpin Robert Petersen, Car & Driver albeit a younger offshoot, and ditto eighties newbie Automobile.

But the point of this particular post is to examine Mr. Mackenzie’s viewpoints about MT’s future. His September issue’s ramblings establish MT’s bragging rights on the editorial front, and perhaps that’s where chronicling the publication’s notable records of achievement should have wound down. Instead we’re told about all the great things occurring at motortrend.com. Like daily updates, fresh news, and “an increasing number of comments from our lively and engaged audience.” That’s swell. Are we back in 1999? How many of these eyeballs pay for this awesome content? And if this online home is so hip, why perpetuate a newsstand queen?

To underscore the critical element of timeliness that so vexes publishing management today, herewith same issue’s wordsmithing by Editor-at-Large Arthur St. Antoine on the subject of GM’s bankruptcy:

As I write this, GM has just filed for bankruptcy.

These few words say it all.

Information credibility assumes a number of forms, one among them the factor of  timeliness. A monthly simply cannot deliver relevant news in a timely fashion, and where print mavens are unwilling to accept that their world is being judged/compromised/impacted from superior online news sources. Mr. Antoine’s well-intentioned editorial cannot be taken as the informative read it might have been pre Web 1.0. And that was a long time ago. Today is July 28, 2009 the day MT’s September issue hit my mailbox and GM exited bankruptcy nearly two weeks ago.

Back to the business at hand, there’s the matter of parent company Source Interlink’s gouging lenders to the tune of $1B and who is currently operating on a short leash as its newsstand plan-o-gram goes haywire. Angus is quick to burnish those details of history:

Our parent company has reorganized and is now privately owned and well funded. We’re still one of the largest-circulation car magazines in the world, and for the past five years we have consistently outsold all our rivals on the newsstand…”

But Mr. Mackenzie, perhaps unwittingly, hit the nail on the head: that Land of OZ called the newsstand. Outselling rivals to fleeting single-copy buyers was an effective method to sell ad contracts and beat the competition when the newsstand mattered. It no longer matters. The relentless pursuit of a false God undoubtedly set the stage for its current loss of shine though MT is not alone in this unfortunate dance of the dead cow. The printer’s bill comes due despite most copies winding up in the shredder. Ad pages and dollars are off to the tune of about 30% for MT and sister pub Automobile. On the circ front, MT and Automobile showed the least reduction from 2008 to 2009 among the Fab Four (which includes Car & Driver), but can that trend be reversed. More to the point, should it?

In a brave wrap up, Angus holds forth the prospects of Motor Trend’s continued life beyond the harsh realities of the new world media. Let’s hope SI has something up their sleeve. But every day wasted running multiple channels under an inherently channel-conflicted organization is another day that allows a growing cadre of web pure-plays to capture new and younger consumers.

I suspect SI’s bean counters and scarred investors will dictate when and how MT’s future will play out.

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There Are 3 Responses So Far. »

  1. You won’t believe the sale pitch I get from ad reps it’s like dollar day at the supermarket. They can’t make money giving away ad space but it sure is nice on our marketing budget.

  2. I cannot imagine four competing U.S. magazines being around this time next year.

  3. The magazines you write about won’t change until they are forced to change and it may already be too late.

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