I’ll add this first: This whole post is mainly based on opinion, observation, and experience. I don’t have a lot of hard number proof of where the industry and “competitors” sit in terms of numbers and selling advertising and it doesn’t really matter for this discussion. I suspect it’d be hard to get my finger on real numbers even if I started digging.
I will also add that I’m definitely in to doing advertising when it makes sense. I’m all for being a pitchman for things that are good and make sense for listeners. Will you see some Google AdSense on the site? Likely.
Will I have an Amazon affiliate link that you should click before buying on Amazon? Yes. HINT HINT CLICK THIS LINK. Will I pitch companies that I like, use, believe in, and appreciate like Wolf Tooth Components, Salsa Cycles, Epic Rides, CarboRocket, Elevated Legs, Tailwind Nutrition, Industry Nine, Gu Energy, Athlete on Fire, 45NRTH, Fix It Sticks, Domahidy Designs (who you’ll hear in a new episode soon discussing his new bike…) and many others? Yeah, for sure. I’m not anti-advertising and promotion and like working with people. I often go out of my way to share other’s good, companies, and I like win-win situations.
My point with this post is to share some thoughts I’ve had and tied together and hopefully give you some insight into why I’m approaching things the way I am going into the future with Mountain Bike Radio. I am also using it to explain why it’s not in the best interest of MBR to spend time pitching random things for $50 a pop that a) Aren’t good b) Don’t make sense for the you and just clog things up and c) Aren’t useful. Hopefully it will makes sense by the end. There is a lot here, so hang tight.
MBR Facebook Post
I made a post on the Mountain Bike Radio Facebook Page yesterday reminding people that the best way to support and help Mountain Bike Radio continue is to become a member. It’s easy and people can do it for as low as $1 per month for a no frills support level.
It’s easy and people can do it for as low as $1 per month for a no frills support level.
Still, it’s not always an easy thing to do. Ask for $1 a month for something that you can listen to for free and some people turn their heads. Keeping in mind that there are benefits, especially for the upper levels beyond the $1, some feel like doing this is begging or just not running a business the traditional way. I get it – I sell in various manners, including services, goods, and I’ve had experience in basic retail too. It all got me to thinking and compiling the whole story in my head.
The traditional process of buying something is comfortable and normal – we give someone money and they give us a product, whether it’s a widget from Store X or someone helping us with our tax return. You’ve heard and read the same story about the internet and how it’s tough to monetize, so I’m not going to pound that nail any further in.
If you’re interested, there are a ton of podcasts out there selling consulting to help people try to monetize their sites and podcasts. My point here with this intro is to just lay it out there that I completely understand and to let you know that I stand in your shoes in many situations – I consume free content on the internet too.
The Road Less Traveled
My focus with Mountain Bike Radio has always been you, the listener. In my life, my previous career, and just about everything I do now, the focus is always on the customer or the client. My previous life was completely dependent on keeping high net worth individuals and large companies happy and provide them what they needed to be successful. If my focus or our firm’s focus went away from the customer (the end user of our service), they would stop paying us and leave. That’s no different than any other product or service.
What if you went into your local shop, purchased a bike you thought you really loved, had an issue, and the manufacturer told you to piss off because they’re only focused on making the bike shop happy? Not cool. Jeesh, look what happens when politicians are focused on those special interests lining their pockets and keeping them in office rather than the people they are supposed to be serving. What if I take focus away from teaching my kids? It becomes a total shitshow, right?
Jeesh, look what happens when politicians are focused on those special interests lining their pockets and keeping them in office rather than the people they are supposed to be serving.
That illustrates why, early on, I decided to tackle this whole “monetization” (that’s a hot word these days in the podcast world) conundrum a little differently and focus on the route of charging you something to be a member without making it a full pay wall. We take your money in exchange for doing it all for you. In exchange you get some stuff too – tshirt, goods, deals, etc.
I suppose I could do the paywall thing, but that’s quite limiting in terms of getting the word out – a catch 22 indeed.
Has it been the easy way? No. Not at all. But, it’s similar to the reason that I held off putting Mountain Bike Radio on iTunes (I didn’t do that until fairly late in the game) – I wanted to get people into the app because I knew it was valuable to them.
Is it perfect? No. But it’s a process of improving everything a little every day. At some point in the very near future, I need to hire some help and that’s going to take things to another level as well. I want to get members a huge list of goods, benefits, and deals. It’ll all get there.
I see the membership platform as a great way going forward to build the base of money to 1) keep Mountain Bike Radio functioning; 2) grow Mountain Bike Radio in terms of shows, content, employees, and taking on other projects to all build back to Mountain Bike Radio; and 3) stay as independent as possible along the way.
A little from a lot of people over a consistent basis is a great way to continue and build a consistent and reliable product in a sustainable manner over a period of time. Will it piss some people and/or companies off? Yeah, likely. But that’s part of it as well – if we try to make everyone happy all the time, we’ll end up making nobody happy.
If I knew the future and had a special crystal ball obviously I wouldn’t be here guessing what the future will hold. If I knew the exact best answer for Mountain Bike Radio two years down the road and knew what the industry would look like going forward, I probably wouldn’t be spending all the time doing what I’m doing and just go off with my millions of dollars that I won on sports betting and predicting everything else.
I know what I want to see and the direction I want it all to head, but at the same time I understand that only time will tell and I have to be flexible and adapt to many factors because if I don’t, it’s dead. All that said, I do know that I see the following four trends.
1. Current State Not Sustainable.
I know that the current state of marketing/advertising/content is not sustainable. It’s a race to the bottom of a large vat of sour, warm Hammer Perpetuem, ending in a click bait, fake opinions, and questionable tactics. Even if we take the largest and most frequented sites and tally all the banner ad or equivalent revenue, I would venture to say it doesn’t come out to much per person for the people creating the content.
It all gets very messy – as you try to grow and increase the revenue, you increasingly have conflicts of interest, causing you to make the choice – build it for the companies paying or build it for the consumer (ie you). Hell, the fact that I dragged Hammer into the first sentence of this paragraph will probably set off alarms and blacklist me from their stuff. (Note: You should be using CarboRocket or Tailwind and Gu Energy products anyway!)
Do you want a real life example of what happens with talking about things the way they are, with honestly, and constructive criticism?
I’ll direct you over to THIS POST over on Riding Gravel (in case you’re wondering, Guitar Ted and I are 50/50 owners of that site, so you need to go over there for everything gravel cycling…) from back in December. In this 3rd part of a 3-part review, Guitar Ted gives his overall thoughts on the bike. It boils down to this – he liked the bike except a couple things didn’t really jive with the overall build.
One of those items was the wheelset. He noted that he’d expect to see that wheelset on a lower priced build. He did not bash them or even say they were bad – just not consistent with the level of the frame and other components. I won’t go into details that aren’t public, but it’s painfully obvious from the abnormally large number of comments focused on the wheels that the company who made the wheels came knocking with their claws out. They weren’t even paying us, nor have they ever advertised on Riding Gravel.
We were put on the defense for giving an honest perspective for readers. Can you imagine if they were paying us enough money to make it worth our time to advertise, review, etc? We could say nothing but the best words without serious repercussions. In a lot of cases, it’s not a big deal, because there are a lot of great people and companies out there and they are easy to back and sell. But, at the same time, it does nothing to help offer up a sense of reality with you, the listener/reader/follower.
Banner/click ads/and the pay for review sort of thing just seemed to be doomed at some point down the road. The commodity nature of the banner, limited space without placing some huge commercials as headers or adding google adsense in place of the actual website title, and the constant pressure to get more clicks and clickthroughs leads to more and more clickbait, attention grabbing titles, and sponsored posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
We become desensitized to the headlines, posts, and discussion. The level of shock and attention grabbing needs to be raised constantly. I don’t see that as sustainable. Are they still currently relevant and usable? Sure. Maybe? But, the market and usefulness seems to decrease daily and straight up banner ads are tough if they aren’t combined with some larger plan, as in the case of some campaign that includes writing, social media, audio, email, and other touch points to get people involved. How much do you really get out of a best of 2016 bikes list if some of the bikes are paying to be there?
2. First to News.
I also know that the race to get spy photos and get the very first lead on any story is of decreasing importance. Social media has made many of the first-to-market posts on websites irrelevant. Twitter and Facebook are so fast to pick up any little piece of info, that all it takes is one peep of info and the mobs are all over it. Additionally, it’s obvious (especially obvious in some instances) that some manufacturers partner up with certain media to be the release point/brand ambassador role for their goods. There is nothing wrong with this at all.
But, it’s a losing fight if you’re trying to get the inside scoop – you’ll never compete. It’s like trying to outfox the stock market and all of the insider knowledge. Trying to beat it on a day-to-day basis isn’t reasonable or valuable.
What is my personal opinion on the future of world of cycling/outdoor media, sites, podcasts? I think it’ll start to slow down and take a couple different routes. When I say slow down, I don’t mean in terms of the numbers of ads, posts, content, etc. literally slowing down. I see it more of taking a step back, using the information that’s been lobbed around the social media mobs, and taking some time to digest it and add some thought and value to it all.
Whether that value is via podcasts, written form, or both, it’ll contain some more commentary, insight, and value that we can sink our teeth into a little more. Rather than 1000 miles wide and an inch deep, it’ll be more like 10 inches deep and 100 miles wide. It’s hard to replace the trackable and traceable pageviews and clickthrough numbers, but those will slowly be phased out with more feeling based metrics. I’m not sure how we’ll track those feeling-based metrics, but we’ll figured out some way to capture the actual impact of something like an interview on a podcast or some references in an honest review. The days of spy glimpse of interbike releases on website x are fading fast.
It’s funny how trends come and go, but we’ll see some longer-ish form formats capture our attention more and more. I say longer-ish because we’re all busy and the likelihood of sitting down to read War and Peace in a weekend isn’t good. But there is a vast in between a 10-second glimpse of a top 10 list on Facebook before your boss catches you looking and sitting down for 100 hours to read a book. We have forums, discussions on whatever social media is and will become the in thing, and other quick hitters. We’re inundated with quick hits of everything and it’s killing our brains. It’s refreshing to be able to download 3 hours of a Joe Rogan Podcast and listen to him talk to some hunting guys about some interesting topics that I didn’t know about while taking a road trip down the road. It’s refreshing to be able to burn through an episode of Freakonomics while doing the dishes. It’s likely that a lot of people will click on the link of this post from some social media link and not bother reading past the title. That’s fine. The intent isn’t to write to that person. It’s intended for those interested in Mountain Bike Radio and are wondering why things are the way they are and to see why I’m doing the things I do because of where I see the future going – those who will sit down with their morning cup of coffee on their tablet and get a dose of fact, opinion, and storytelling.
The last thing that we’ll see more frequently is the use of branded sites, podcasts, and other media. I won’t mention names, because they do a good job and I’m just not sure how I feel when I see stuff that on the backside is funded for the sole benefit of that company. It’s kind of like watching a documentary about the history of flight, done for and paid by Boeing. While it might be very informative, there is that little guy in my head asking what are they getting out of it and how accurate is it rather than just a feel good story for Boeing. This will increasingly become a good way for small content creators to sell their stuff. People can contract out their sites or podcast abilities and build things that cater for the exact thing a brand needs – content that portrays a genuine, user-focused experience.
The fact is that things are changing rapidly. I’ve seen it just from the early days of Mountain Bike Radio in 2012. When I talked with people, I had to explain, in depth, what a podcast even was. Just in the last 2 years, there have been several other cycling sites that have cooked up podcasts, some in the mountain biking realm. This will continue and accelerate. I’m sure that I could sit down and write this in a year or two and there will be a competing network, exactly the same. That’s just the way it works. I’m sure it’ll be interesting anyway it works out.
I know that the inevitable questions arise about stats and listeners. I started typing out some info about it but decided that it’s best shared in it’s own little post. So, I’ll hold off there for now. I can go into the inner workings of what all happens behind the scenes at some point down the road.
What Do You Think?
You can see from my entire rambling discussion that I’m big on trying to look ahead and do what is best for my users and Mountain Bike Radio as a whole. Mountain Bike Radio is characterized by great content from several different hosts who think about mountain biking and mountain bike related topics constantly. It’s important to me that it’s sustainable and valuable. I appreciate you taking the time to read through this post. Thank you.
I invite any of you to send me some feedback. What do you see happening? Am I way off base in terms of the future of marketing? What do you think is the best answer? Are you just tired of being asked and just want to skip through some advertising. Send me a message, tweet me, leave a message on Facebook, do whatever you need to do, just let me know. If you have any questions about Mountain Bike Radio, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org