January 11, 2016 by Irish Peloton
The Death of a Magazine
I‘ve always collected things.
The first thing I ever remember collecting were Topps trading cards depicting the 1989 Batman movie with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Myself and my brother would collect them together, taking our 50p pocket money on a Saturday, heading across the green to the local shop and buying a single packet each which would contain six cards, a sticker and a stick of bubblegum which we weren’t allowed to eat. There were 132 cards in all and we had the full set. We still do.
Later the focus turned to football and the obsession became Merlin Premier League stickers. The images of players from the 1994 and 1995 albums are still wedged in my memory. Stickers were currency in the playground as you flicked through a classmates collection seeking out ‘swaps’ that would contribute to completing your own -‘Have, have, have, NEED!, have, have, have, have…’
A couple of decades later and most recently my focus, rather tragically, has been on cycling magazines. There’s a famous quote which reads “when I die, my biggest fear is that my wife will sell all my bikes for what I told her they are worth”. The same is probably true of me and cycling magazines. I don’t care to think about how much money I’ve spent augmenting the collection over the last number of years, particularly now that I’m a grown up and thankfully I earn rather more than 50p a week.
Up until recently I was the proud – my wife would use a different word – owner of every issue of Cycle Sport magazine ever published. This dates back to June of 1993 when the magazine was launched as a sister publication to the age old Cycling Weekly. Most of the issues were sourced on eBay or via various cycling forums where I would capitalise on obedient men clearing out their attics. Some of the others were kindly donated free of charge by various people who cared less about these things than I clearly did.
I completed the back catalogue a few years ago. So to make sure the collection was up to date all I had to do was just buy the latest issue every month, which is what I did.
I was in Eason’s on Patrick Street in Cork City before Christmas where I usually go to satisfy my cycling magazine cravings. I picked up the latest offering from Cycle Sport, I had a flick through and was deeply saddened to see the shadow of a publication in my hands. I put it back and didn’t buy it. My collection now sits in my man-cave, officially incomplete, missing one issue.
This has been a long time coming. The magazine has been going slowly down hill for a number of years. Its dearth of writers is striking. Not so long ago there was a pool of them which included Ed Pickering, Andy McGrath, Richard Moore and Lionel Birnie. None of these writers contribute to the magazine on a regular basis anymore.
Instead, we get Kenny Pryde who is listed as the ‘editor-at-large’. It’s not unusual for an editor to write a feature for a magazine. For instance, Pickering, who is now the editor of Pro Cycling, has written the lead piece in this month’s issue on the Yates twins. However, if you take a look at the contents page of the latest Cycle Sport magazine, there are seven features listed, one of which is a book extract. Of the other six, Pryde has written five of them.
Almost the entire magazine has been written by the editor. I’m not an experienced hand with print media, but I would imagine when your publication is in such a state that the editor is required to contribute to the writing to such an extent is not a good sign.
There’s also the identity of Pryde himself. Pro Cycling magazine were looking for a new editor recently and they hired Pickering, a cycling writer of a somewhat younger generation (you’re welcome Ed). Time Inc., who own Cycle Sport, decided to go the other direction and hire Pryde who has been around the block and, well… if you’ve nothing nice to say etc.
Apart from the content of the mag, there’s the appearance of it. There’s a glossy cover on the front, but other than that, it’s much the same as Cycling Weekly. The pages are flimsy, approaching crêpe paper and there aren’t that many of them anymore. Most damning of all is the staple in the binding. As a journalist of considerable repute said to me recently, ‘a staple in the binding is the beginning of the end’.
Cycle Sport magazine used to be better, it used to be quality. I’ve just picked out the first issue off my bookshelf. It was published more than 22 years ago and it’s in better condition than the pitiful latest edition I had leafed through in Easons. The editorial in that first June 1993 edition by original editor Andy Sutcliffe contains the following:
“The first question has to be: why produce another cycling magazine? Simply because we believe there is a demand for a publication dedicated solely to the needs of the professional cycle racing fan.
“I firmly believe that our sister magazine Cycling Weekly provides a comprehensive guide to the whole of the foreign and domestic racing scene. However, what Cycling Weekly cannot do is take the time to set up the major features that give readers an even greater insight into the European game.
“In recent years I have felt there was again a need for a good monthly cycle racing magazine that had the time and space to publish many of the articles that I have wanted to run in Cycling Weekly, but have been unable to because of the pressures of quickly reporting the race scene. A magazine that would look at the whole of the professional scene.
“I hope that Cycle Sport will fill that need for you”.
Back in 1993, this all made sense. But in 2016 there is no longer a ‘demand’ for a magazine like Cycle Sport. There are now plenty of alternatives where fans of professional cycling can turn to get their fill of top quality feature writing – Pro Cycling, Rouleur, Conquista, and the rather delicious looking Soigneur, an English language version of a Dutch journal which arrived on my doorstep this week. The world no longer needs Cycle Sport. The quality of cycling publications in general has been improving and progressing. Sadly, Cycle Sport has not. It has declined to the point of irrelevancy.
And if a guy like me – a collector, an anorak, a geek – no longer has the will to part with his money for it, why on earth would anyone else?
‘Have, have, have, have, don’t care, don’t care, don’t care….’