On a blazing-hot Monday morning when the Motorcyclist crew was supposed to be on the way to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway via some of the best roads in California, aboard a collection of the best superbikes ever made for our “Class of” test, we were in a meeting at our parent company’s office in Irvine, CA. The content of the meeting invitation, delivered at 4:30 p.m. the Friday before in the impersonal form of e-mail, was curiously unspecific.
Come Monday, a suit I’d never met strolled into the room and said, “Good morning. You’ve been sold to Bonnier Corp. Good luck.” Okay, that’s paraphrasing a bit, but not much. At the conclusion of this speech, he turned on his heel and left. We stood there in shock. The collective staff of MC, Sport Rider, and Motorcycle Cruiser—plus the staff members of our company’s off-road and Harley-Davidson titles—looked at each other and realized we’d been sold to the company that owns Cycle World, among many other magazines.
Shock turned to anger. We felt like we’d been dumped like a truckload of quickly thawing frozen pork. You have to understand our dedication to appreciate the reaction: For us—and I think I can speak for my whole staff—this is more than a job. We live and breathe motorcycles. We stay late, gladly plow through weekends, and work like total fools because this is exactly, precisely what we want to be doing. That our passion for this magazine was not shared by our former owners wasn’t so much of a surprise, but it was dispiriting nonetheless.
Much will change. As the man in polyester was preparing to drop the ax, I spied Eric Zinczenko and Andy Leisner at the back of the room. Eric was, during the year that I worked with the CW crew as a freelancer, a pretty big deal, but I’d heard he’d been promoted up the ranks in Bonnier and is an even bigger deal now. (In January, he was tabbed to head all of Bonnier’s magazine brands, making him the number-two man in the firm’s American branch.) Andy I knew as the steady and thoughtful publisher of CW. Both, I’m pleased to say, are really good guys with whom I had a great working relationship. Until, of course, I “defected” to this job. (Lessons One and Two: Never burn a bridge and never smack-talk on the way out the door. Amendment to Lesson Two: Unless a guy in a polyester suit is involved.) Both Eric and Andy are serious motorcycle enthusiasts. We are, from that standpoint, in very good hands.
Soon after the announcement, Bonnier brass did an incredibly smart thing: They called a meeting to gather editors, art directors, ad-sales people, and marketing staff to talk through parts of the transition and, in effect, introduce ourselves as co-workers instead of competitors. The two-day meeting went very well, and I heard heartfelt praise for working within Bonnier from the CW staff.
But the questions I’ve fielded the most since the sale hit the wire are these: Can former competitors coexist in the shrinking world of print publishing? And, will Motorcyclist become some sort of CW-lite? Or worse: Closed altogether?
Yes, no, and no. In that order.
Fact is, we have a very strong and identifiable brand, something Bonnier management is keenly aware of; it doesn’t call its magazines “titles,” they’re “brands.” And it’s not just PR speak; branding is important. It identifies your approach, your attitude, your general way of doing things. And readers identify with certain brands, which is why there isn’t 100 percent duplication between our and Cycle World’s readers. Bonnier knows this, and has seen the financials: Even in a difficult industry during hard economic times, Motorcyclist is a powerful brand and a profitable business.
That’s why I think we’ll thrive in our new home, benefitting from management that seems to care about the brand and resources to improve both the print and digital products. You can’t ask for more than that.