The road ahead

Bauer’s six-title motorcycling portfolio faces a number of challenges, some unique to its biker market, some common to all consumer magazine publishers. James Evelegh looks at what they’re doing about it.

By James Evelegh

The road ahead
Photograph: Justin Bernatek on Unsplash.

The biking fraternity is diminishing. Health and safety concerns have led to anxious parents steering their offspring away from two wheels and onto four, a trend exacerbated by the greater affordability of cars, compared to 30 or 40 years ago when a motorcycle was the only economically viable way of getting around for many people.

On top of that, there is the challenge all publishers face – reduced demand for our traditional print product as reading habits changes and competition for our readers’ attention comes from all directions.

To illustrate the scale of the challenge, the latest ABC figure for its flagship title, Motor Cycle News, is 48,525, which is over 100,000 fewer than it was twenty years ago.

Publishers like Bauer have long since realised that a business based solely on magazine sales and in-magazine advertising is not sustainable. New revenue streams and innovative ways of packaging and deriving value from content are needed to plug the gap and grow the business.

To that end, Bauer’s motorcycling portfolio organises a number of large events: MCN Festival, Scottish Motorcycle Show and the London Motorcycle Show, the last of which, mercifully, took place in February just before lockdown.

Rob Aherne.

Another major strand is e-commerce. As Rob Aherne, MD of Bauer’s motorcycling portfolio, says of automotive titles in general, although the lessons are applicable across other sectors too: magazine brands are moving towards a “more transactional models and being more useful. I don’t think that it is enough to just offer great content than entertains; you have to be able to move people towards some kind of transaction funnel in parts of your business.”

MCN Compare, an insurance price comparison service offered by Motor Cycle News is one obvious example of this trend, and, says Rob, 25k policies are sold through it every year, generating significant revenues.

The magazine’s busy ‘bikes for sale’ classified section has an online equivalent allowing it to display far more bikes – 10k+ online, compared to approximately 250 in print.

And, perhaps taking a leaf out of sister title Country Walking’s transformative #walk1000miles initiative, the bike portfolio offers #ride5000miles with its accompanying Facebook group of almost 13k members.

These are all part of a general trend towards developing more digital touchpoints with customers.

The aim of the app is simple: to drive higher average revenue per user.

Bikes Unlimited

Its latest interesting innovation came at the end of last year, in the form of the new ‘Bikes Unlimited’ app – all six of Bauer’s motorcycling titles (MCN, Bike, Ride, Practical Sportsbikes, Classic Bike and Built) available in one bundled app, which for a monthly price of £7.99 (£89.99 for the year), offers subscribers an all-you-can-read experience.

For each title, the app offers PDFs of each issue, and when a user selects any particular page (except the ads and classifieds), the article then optimises for their device.

One app, six mags.

The aim of the app is simple: to drive higher average revenue per user. The results so far have been very encouraging. According to Rob, they hit the year’s revenue targets for the app in April. The app is, he says, showing the best conversion stats (from installation to purchase) for any of Bauer’s titles on the Google Play store.

Jim Foster, head of epublishing, says they are pleased with the success of the app which looks set to “bring a nice amount of incremental profit to the business this year”.

So how did they do it? Developing a bundled app like that would normally require significant development effort, but that is where being part of a large international publishing group like Bauer comes in handy.

Bauer’s Germany-based operation had come up with a bundled app for its women’s titles, which after a reskinning and some relatively minor tweaks to its functionality, was ready to go.

Is there a risk of the new app denting subs sales for the individual titles? Undoubtedly yes, but I imagine Bauer has done its sums, noted the ongoing circulation declines and concluded that it was in their best interests for their target audience to subscribe to the new app.

And they have been aggressively marketing it, promoting it widely across the constituent titles, experimenting with the offer to maximise uptake. They obviously feel confident in the quality of the offering and that people, once they try it, will subscribe.

At the moment, the app consists only of content from the print editions of the six magazines, although there are in-app links to news feeds. Interestingly, Rob sees potential in the future for creating bonus content for the Bikes Unlimited app only, which raises all sorts of interesting possibilities.

Is the app replicable across other sectors? It chimes with current trends towards subscriptions and content aggregation, but says Rob, obviously you need the depth and breadth of content and reach within a market. By definition, such an approach is a non-starter for single titles.

Across Bauer’s other titles, perhaps gardening and automotive might lend themselves to a bundled app. The key requirement is a range of complementary titles within a sector.

Where next for the app? The focus, says Rob, is on marketing – aggressively putting it in front of prospective subscribers, particularly overseas, experimenting with price / offer, and hooking up more detailed analytics to improve their understanding of who is using the app, and how they’re using it.

Could Bikes Unlimited be the future face of Bauer’s motorcycling portfolio? The brand has potential to grow and flex depending on the future of the individual brands. If print circulations continue to head south, then this new app could form the blueprint for the biking portfolio’s future.

You can hear Rob Aherne being interviewed by Ciar Byrne on a recent episode of The InPublishing Podcast, which was sponsored by Atex, a provider of software solutions for the media industry.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.