I write this blog. I guest-write on other blogs. I write paid magazine pieces. I write books. I write a lot. So you might understand that it’s pretty rare for me to contact magazines that don’t pay their contributors and beg them to let me write something for them.
The Ride Journal is a rare exception. When I first came across the magazine I was immediately charmed and impressed. Beautiful design, great writing, a clear love of cycling: I wanted to be part of this! It’s a source of pride to me that I have featured in two issues of the magazine. I own almost every issue. I haven’t chucked them away as I do with most magazines. The arrival through the letter box of The Ride Journal calls for me to stop working, put the kettle on, and settle down on a comfy chair. In short: I’m a fan.
And so I was sad to hear that the latest, tenth, issue of The Ride Journal is to be the final one. But I also was impressed to hear that. It’s a bold move to quit while you’re ahead, to treasure quality and integrity and personal satisfaction more than squeezing a few more quid out of more issues. It’s never been about money for founders and brothers Andrew and Philip. All the proceeds have quietly gone to charity. It has been about passion, and doing something really well.
I love it when people do one thing exceptionally well and I am always eager to learn lessons from those people (for I am a hopelessly slapdash jack-of-all-trades). Philip kindly agreed to share with me some of the lessons he has learned in the process of launching, nurturing and putting to bed this cult classic. We can all learn from this, whatever it is in life we are trying to do well.
Over to Philip… (if I have whetted your appetite, you can still buy copies of the magazine here. Get ’em before they’re gone forever!)
The Ride Journal is an all-encompassing cycling magazine. It tells the stories of riders of all kinds of bikes in all kinds of places. Personal tales, not reviews, not route guides and definitely nothing about how to train. We do soulful rather than scientific. We’ve been lucky enough to feature World and Olympic champions, personal heroes of mine, forward thinkers, free spirits, epic travellers and every shade of rider from commuter, racer, tourer and weekend warrior. We’ve also enlisted as many illustrators and photographers as we could. There are so many talented folk out there and we wanted the magazine to serve as a channel for all of their great work.
And now onto me. I’m a pretty average cyclist. I’ve never done well in any race I’ve competed in but I love riding bikes, pretty much all types of bikes. By day I edit TV programmes, and by night/ weekend I am the editor of The Ride Journal. It’s a two man show with my best friend / brother Andrew. He has previous form in magazines as he is the Creative Director for Wired UK. When we started I had no previous experience except for writing a couple of articles for Singletrack Magazine (one of the early inspirations for us).
And now onto the list:
1 Being different is good.
When we began in 2008 we (along with two friends who started the magazine with us) looked at what was out there at the time. We saw bits of what we liked in other magazines but so much that we didn’t. There was lots of pigeon holing of bikes (“If you’re a mountain biker then you must hate roadies etc.”) and nothing that tried to link the dots between the different types of bike, nothing that showed that the buzz at the end of a dirt jump session with friends wasn’t a million miles from the buzz after a long road ride with friends.
So instead of being another fish in someone else’s pond we decided to see if we could make our own pond and be the only fish. In my mind I initially thought we would create a fanzine, along the lines of the photocopied punk ‘zines from the early 80’s, a DIY ethic, but this soon seemed wrong. We were being trusted with so much good stuff it seemed like our responsibility to present it as beautifully as we could.
2 It’s actually now pretty easy to start a magazine.
In 2008, many people were talking about the death of print (largely due to the rise of blogs, Ebooks etc.). Thankfully that argument has died out as the independent magazine world is thriving. And the irony is that it is because of the internet that these magazines are doing so well. Via channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter you have access to almost any niche you can imagine. I just checked on Instagram and KnittedCats exists. That says it all.
Technology has made it easier to design something professional-looking, to send files to printers and to deal with distributors and shops. Lots of tedious small details, but these are things that 20 years ago would have made it impossible without being part of a big publishing house.
3 Get a good designer and sub editor. They can be the gliding swan to your furiously paddling legs.
I was very lucky in that I had absolute faith in my brother’s ability to make something stunning. He decided that he would strip away a lot of things to make the magazine look as clean and simple as possible. I assumed that this made things easier but watching the amount of work it took, with nowhere to hide mistakes, I realised that less really is more work.
Knowing that it would look so good removed a lot of pressure in one way, but also made me realise I had to become more demanding from myself. As the magazine has progressed we have become more exacting and expected a higher standard of writing, illustration and photography. It makes it harder work, as you are asking for more re-writes and changes, but the end product improves each time. When I look back at the past issues I see a real step-up in quality after issue 3 and after issue 6. And I think that issue 10 is the best one as it is the closest one to the idea I have in my head as to the diversity that should be inside.
And a mention should also go to the subeditor. When his job is done well, no one notices. We spent so long reading pieces, again and again to make sure as few mistakes were made as possible. I now notice almost every mistake in other people’s magazines and mentally tut if there are more than one or two in an issue. If you are starting a magazine then do sweat the details because once it’s in print, people will notice them and you can’t change it.
4 Enthusiasm opens door like nothing else.
Asking people to contribute their skills and time is difficult at the best of times, but at the start it is even harder. When you have no proven track record and nothing to show anyone you need to rely on enthusiasm to get people on board.
I was constantly surprised how far our enthusiasm for the magazine took us. From getting our first advertisers to pay money to getting writers for a magazine that hadn’t been made, it seemed like people could see we were serious about making this happen.
5 No one starts a magazine so they can do ad sales.
Sadly the dull jobs need doing. After all the exciting and fun tasks were handed out we soon realised there were lots of other things that needed to be done. Adverts needed to be sold to cover as much of the printing cost as possible. Printers needed to be communicated with. Promotion was needed to get the word out there to blogs/ websites etc. It’s all well and good creating something beautiful but if no one sees it, then is it a success?.
Distribution should also be thought of in advance. I soon learnt that going to the post office to buy a couple of hundred pounds worth of stamps and then driving around looking for post boxes big enough to fill with fat envelopes was not a viable way to operate.
If you are planning to start a magazine then anticipate these jobs not being fun and spread them fairly.
6 Your spare time will go, and your non spare time will go as well.
Magazines are the perfect, all-consuming time-filler. If you let them they can fill your every waking hour. Especially if you have a day job. It’s usually a good idea to come up with a figure of how much time you think you will need. Double it and think whether you can/want to give that much time up.
Nothing beats the feeling of cracking open the first box of a new issue and looking at the work you’ve made happen, but that feeling only comes because of the amount of time and effort that’s been invested.
7 Being part of a bunch of do-gooders is good.
Normally I fully agree with people when they say you should never give your time and work for free, unless it’s linked to our magazine. We decided from the start that the Ride Journal was not for profit and any money that didn’t go into making the magazine would be donated to charities. This way our labour of love could give something back to cycling and to as many other good causes as we could. It helped us in many ways.
I have always been amazed and humbled at how many people were willing to write, illustrate or shoot for us knowing that all they would get in return was our appreciation, and the knowledge that their work would be alongside other talented folk, and a free copy of the magazine.
I always wish that we could donate even more each time, but I also know that what we’ve been lucky enough to give has made a difference.
8 Times have changed.
It may only be eight years but the cycling world seems a different place. The shelves are now awash with bike magazines both mainstream and independent and as result of this certain things became harder as time went on. The amount of advertising that bike companies could do was finite and we were soon competing against even more magazines for a slice of this pie. It was disheartening to know that there was a team of dedicated sales people up against you when you’d done a days work, ridden home, helped with bath time for the baby, cooked dinner and then switched on your Mac.
Our lives have also changed. Both of us have young families and increasingly I feel a little selfish as I spend each evening with my headphones on preparing shop invoices, or replying to people’s emails.
9 All good things come to an end, don’t they?
The creative part of the magazine was always what we enjoyed doing. We were lucky in that we didn’t have to make money from the journal, which is good because at times it seemed like we were following Factory Records as a business model (for anyone under 35 you can Google them). We poured our all into making something that we truly felt proud of and then relied on the end product to sell itself, which it did, just.
With a big marketing budget or someone who was dedicated to that role, things could have been very different, but then again when I look at the row of ten on my bookcase I’m more than happy with what we’ve achieved. Running the magazine hasn’t really got easier issue on issue so better to end on a high than to let its quality slowly slip away.
10 I’ve seen the future, I just can’t tell anyone about it yet.
The thing is neither of us can sit still and do nothing, so ever since the curtain came down we have already started talking about what else we can do. There will need to be a break, we may even go crazy and get some actual riding in, but something will happen at some point down the line. We are either idiots who don’t learn or we just love making something happen. Maybe it’s a combination of the two…