How’d you like your motoring, Sir? Print or Digital?

Magazines are dying. You’re looking at the future right now
By Shahzad Sheikh

We like to think that this is generally how MME is widely read...

I produced my last issue of CAR Middle East magazine back in August, and it’s been off the shelves for almost a month now. And yet the memory of that magazine is strong not just within the team that worked on it, but the local car industry and of course the readers. If I’d had a Dollar for every time in the last couple of months someone lamented “ah, but CAR – what happened? Why? How?” well I could’ve retired right now.

In fact if you’ve got a copy of that fabled last issue of CAR ME (the one with the Rolls-Royce and Bentley on the cover and the black border) be gentle with it, and once you’re done reading, wrap it in some plastic and put it in a safe place. It’s a piece of history to cherish – the last quality automotive magazine in this region.

I had been involved in nearly every one of the 70 editions produced during five years and ten months of publishing. And throughout my tenure, the magazine was led by one all-abiding philosophy: ‘we do this for you, our reader’.

Everything we did, all our endeavours, all our acclaimed successes and everyone of our spectacular failures, were all focused on bringing you an unrivalled automotive media that informed, but also entertained, enlightened, excited and most of all, spoke its mind.

Forget the past, embrace the future with us

Gotta go virtual

Of course good intentions are not always enough. And it ain’t cheap to put out a beautiful, glossy print publication out each month. Printing and distribution costs along can be crippling (if done properly) not to mention actual editorial costs. This is in fact a reality being faced by the global publishing industry at large, and with advertising revenues for print dive-bombing everywhere, there’s a certain inevitability about the changing landscape of media and how it is consumed.

So where’s the ad money going? As always, it’s going the same place you are dear reader. Where you are right now. Here. Online.

Not convinced? Let me throw some facts and figures at you, but starting with anecdotal evidence: I launched www.Parkers.co.uk in 1999 as the Editor of this consumer motoring website in the UK. By 2002 we had 378,000 unique users, which took us to number two in the market and was extremely impressive for the early 2000s. However in 2008 Web trends said Parkers had over 1.2 million unique users! That is incredible growth for just six years!

I launched Parkers.co.uk in 1999, it now gets well over 1.2 million unique users a month

It’s the end of the road for print

Great so the internet is growing, we all know that, how does that prove that print is on the wane? Well because back when we launched the website, the little printed Parkers price guide used to sell over 80,000 copies and yet today it sells only around 14,000. There’s more… The UK edition of CAR Magazine regularly used to have print circulation in the six figures yet it was ABC audited for the first half of this year at 54,000 average per month. Meanwhile the website has 500,000 unique users monthly.

Even Top Gear magazine – which had massive circulation, is down to just over 100k now, yet its website registers over 1.4million uniques.

Figures are even more dramatic in the USA where circulations have traditionally been much higher. And indeed the biggest selling magazine hits 1.31million circulation (Car and Driver). Now that ain’t bad you’re thinking. And you’re right. But consumer motoring website, Edmunds.com, in the States gets 13.69million unique users! Even its spin-off motoring website, InsideLine.com, pulls in nearly 2m uniques.

Edmunds.com, in the States gets 13.69million unique users

Paper mills are closing

Further evidence of the changing habits of media consumption when it comes to car enthusiasts and car buyers in particular comes from an Automotive Buyer Influence Study, conducted by Polk and AutoTrader.com, from February this year in the US: car buyers spend an average of 18-19 hours online researching their next car purchase on specialist websites like this one! In fact 60% of shopping time is spent online and over 70% of new and used car buyers said they used the internet to find their replacement vehicle.

And as for paper dying – well there’s been several high-profile paper mill closures in the US and Paper Age reports that: “total printing-writing paper shipments decreased 6.4% in August compared to August 2010.” Another writer says “The relentless march of the Internet into every corner of human communications is destroying demand for newsprint”.

John R Quain wrote on FoxNews.com: “Every day we’re needled by the news that the news isn’t what it used to be. Magazines are dying — circulation is down 10% from a year ago, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations — and newspapers aren’t faring much better, although the precipitous drop in sales is slowing to single digit declines. But no matter how much hand-wringing is done in editorial offices, the writing is on the Web: Newspapers and magazines, those paper devices you can flip through, are disappearing.”

The end for paper... yes this was the most appropriate picture we could find!

The ‘Writing is on the Web’

Actually many of us predicted this happening 15 years ago, but we were a bit premature for two reasons: connectivity and the portability of devices. Both those things are now happening, internet is easier to get than ever (you can even access it in some cars, and there are hot spots all over towns and in transport systems) plus broadband penetration is increasing dramatically even here in the Middle East.

On top of that, devices on which you can view the internet are more compact (tablets are just so handy and even smart phones can also handle online content now), plus screen resolutions are so much better now and no longer leave you with a headache.

And of course everyone’s got them. Or they soon will. In 2010 tablet computer manufacturers sold 19 million units, this year they are expected to shift 50 million. Impressed? Wait for next year – they’re expecting to double that to 100 million, and we’re still supposedly in a recession! And don’t forget people still buy other computers like lap tops (230 million to be sold this year alone) primarily for internet access.

You're nobody if you haven't got a tablet

Don’t worry, things can only get better

It’s easy to get all sentimental about the tactility of printed material which you squeeze between your fingers, cut-out pictures and articles from, and even sniff occasionally – well some do it… But the advent of technology, as always, brings with it some incredible advantages and developments.

Apart from viewing content wherever and whenever you like, and being able to carry as much content as you desire depending on your gigabytes, it’s also generally searchable, so it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and it can be updated on the fly – so never actually has to go out of date.

There’s more, it can be live and dynamic, and could contain bits of video and sound. In fact some experts suggests that as connectivity and device processors get faster, even the written word will make way for a preference for audio or video content.

You can link to content, save it, share it, even interact with it and pretty much social-media the hell out of it. You can express your agreement and/or disagreement immediately, issue corrections – hell, you can even create your own content and spread it to the world!

And if some of that leaves you slightly confused and befuddled, don’t worry, stick with us and you’ll soon find out exactly what I’m on about as we ride the thrilling tidal wave of technology to a brighter, more exciting and fascinating future for us and you. Thankfully the early 21st isn’t likely to see a fundamental change in automotive vehicles themselves, for example they aren’t about to go flying around nor will they be replace by Star Trek transporters, so fortunately there is still plenty of potential content for us to keep creating together.

So back to the future then: motoring magazines are dead. Long-live the motoring website.

There not be any flying cars in the future, but will there be magazines?

Loving the digital age and can’t be parted from your iPad? Or will they have to pry that last copy of CAR ME from your cold, dead fingers? Let us know what you think is the future below

One response to “How’d you like your motoring, Sir? Print or Digital?”

  1. Kamil says:

    I think that you can outsource printing of the magazine to Pakistan as printing costs are definitely a lot cheaper than Dubai. Plus, you can use your website’s growing brand equity to market the magazine to the entire world, not just Dubai or even the Middle East for that matter. I agree that the world is going digital but print is print – tablets can’t substitute completely; or so I think.

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