On Sunday rumours started to circulate that Motorsport network, the company behind some of the world’s leading motorsport media including Autosport, F1 Racing & Motorsport.com was about to retire a number of their titles and in doing so, break the hearts of thousands of motorsport fans worldwide.
For amongst the titles MSN was reported to be ‘sunsetting’ was a magazine that has accompanied and supported most of us involved in, or a fan of, motor racing since first being published in 1950 almost 70 years ago.
It informed us, guided us and titillated us with reporting, insight and rare glimpses of exotic cars and liveries in a pre-internet age (hard to imagine such a thing these days!) where up to the minute news on motor racing was difficult to come by.
Of course I’m talking about Autosport Magazine.
There surely can’t be many Formula 1 fans who haven’t experienced the joy of rushing to our local newsagents on a Thursday morning to pick up this week’s copy and the delight that each of its pages would bring with the latest news and images from exotic sounding (to a young boy) locations such as Hockenheim or Jacarepagua.
Only, there are.
As much as it’s an intrinsic part of me growing into a fully fledged #F1 fan, the world has moved on. We can now watch every second of every lap of every session of every grand prix at any time, anywhere and on whatever device we so wish.
We see everything, we get information from behind the scenes and we discuss the various talking points ad infinitum instantly, thanks to the miracles of the world wide web.
And so, to the younger fans of motorsport who haven’t experienced the need to wait for information to arrive, a race report on Thursday of a race that happened on Sunday is virtually out of date. It’s (quite literally) yesterday’s news.
In 2019 with 21 Grand Prix a year and growing, by Thursday we’ve usually forgotten about last week’s race and are keenly anticipating the race to come (often the following day).
If you’d told me in 1987 that this is what access to Formula 1 would look like in the future I’d have been ecstatic. But now, from the viewpoint of a 40 year old bloke, part of me can’t help thinking something has been lost.
That feeling of anticipation and expectation. The treasuring of something you could touch – hold – smell as opposed to the hoovering up of instant (and instantly disposable) digital gratification before we quickly look elsewhere for our next dopamine hit that’s the norm in 2019.
As a result of the whizz-bang nature of content delivery these days where everything is an exclusive, a superlative or a sensation, the measured approach of the more traditional motorsport press wasn’t ‘clickworthy’ enough and was contributing to its inevitable redundancy.
And so Autosport tried to move with the times. It became more sound-bitey. More tabloidy. But all that served to do was to alienate its existing readership – the people who had been propping it up for years, and who once savoured every word – without being able to capitalise on the newer generation of F1 fans who regard print media as outdated.
And so facing an annual loss of around £4m and upwards of £19m in debt, the pressure on Autosport finally told, as it has done for many print titles – NME, Now magazine & FHM among them – as sales of printed titles plummeted to less than half of what they were in 2000.
There was a great deal of sympathy amongst those mourning its loss. But then Autosport announced…
‘Our audience is predominantly engaging with our digital platforms and we’re facing the increasing costs of maintaining a print product. Therefore, from this week, our magazine will be sold at £10.99. Autosport Plus, our digital subscription service, is a great value alternative to engage with our insights, analysis, news and videos from £4.99/month. If your subscription is affected we will be in touch shortly.’
This was quite rightly met with complete disdain.
£10.99 would ensure a slow painful death for the magazine, when a short sharp blow would have been kinder. It also seems like a quick revenue generator on the back of a sinking ship at the expense of the poor reader who can’t or won’t get his information elsewhere.
A further statement on motorsportnetwork.com compounded the issue with more PR speak and corporate jargon.
Whoever penned those statements – if they weren’t done by a bot – has clearly seriously misjudged Autosport’s audience.
Ironically, it was on social media platforms that the very people that Autosport.com is now trying to engage were the most vocal in their criticism, many of whom said that they’d be looking for their motorsport coverage elsewhere (at one of Autosport’s growing number of digital competitors that have hastened its demise), and that they’d be actively cancelling their Autosport Plus subscription in protest.
Autosport magazine’s downfall might have been inevitable. But it’s no less tragic.
And if corporate euthanasia was necessary I’d seriously question MSN’s approach of bludgeoning Autosport magazine with a spade sending it into a coma before they eventually turn off life support in six months time when its value to them hits nil.