Future Proofing Ride BMX Magazine

Keith Mulligan, Ride BMX editor/photographer. Ride BMX

And so, the debate continues: print is dead, the Web has taken over, magazines are on phones, blah blah blah. But having said all that, it is a debate that still splits opinion for and against. A short while ago here on ESPN we interviewed Mike Netley, who is braving print media's perfect storm and recently launched his own BMX magazine -- Case BMX is now independently forging well into issue two and its future looks pretty good, since it embraces a new way of doing print business. But what of the older magazines? What about one of the oldest -- namely, Ride BMX? We keep hearing scare stories about the state of play there, but as it turns out, they are just stories: so I decided to head straight to the horse's mouth and find out the real deal -- from Keith Mulligan.

Ride BMX Magazine

Founded: 1992 by Brad McDonald
Owner: Bonnier Corporation
Based: Carlsbad, Calif.
Produces: Print magazines, Web sites, Feature Videos, Events
Editorial Team: Keith Mulligan, Jeff Zielenski, Ryan Fudger, Dwayne Carter, Fat Tony
Issues To Date: 162

Frustrated with the state of BMX magazines, founding editor Brad McDonald decided to bring out something new and vibrant and legit, and through the years, Ride BMX has become the most influential BMX mag on the scene.

As editor of Ride BMX, Keith lives and breathes BMX magazines. And, he's still damn handy on a bike too. But first, a little back-story: Ride BMX was started in 1992 by Brad McDonald. Frustrated with the state of BMX magazines, Brad decided to bring out something new and vibrant and legit, and through the years, created the most influential BMX mag on the scene. It grew hand over fist, spawned offspring in the shape of separate BMX racing and MX magazines, was sold to TransWorld Media and changed tack. Brad then left to fire up Vital Media, Ride changed editorial team and owners, and that pretty much brings us up to date. Lately though, the inevitable shift in media appetites has led to a shrink in Ride BMX magazine's page count, and also a cut in the magazine's frequency in 2008 from monthly to nine per year: which actually, I believe was a really sensible thing to do. Monthly magazines really sap the BMX trade for money, when there are so many other marketing options out there now.

Now unless you have been living underneath a rock in the Mojave desert, you will have seen Apple's new smart idea, the iPad. Some are saying it'll do to print what the iPod did for music: and for sure, the promo video featuring the iPad sure looks slick. For one thing, it has a decent screen size designed for reading. (Some companies are trying to compress a magazine onto an iPhone, but in my opinion, it seems to be the wrong medium for a tangible and large format magazine.)

However, it should come as no surprise that Ride BMX's current owners are way ahead of the curve -- Bonnier's technical team have spent the past few years developing something called Mag+ format, and again, some plush Web videos about this concept look pretty slick and polished (read: expensive) and Bonnier are plunging a sizeable chunk of investment into this and, they claim, "The concept uses the power of digital media to create a rich and meaningful experience, while maintaining the relaxed and curated features of printed magazines."

Personally, I still appreciate the stress-free feel, function, and quality of a good printed magazine -- rolling it up and stuffing it in the bag, it never crashes or runs out of battery, and if I drop it in a puddle it's not going to cost me seven hundred bucks to replace it.

So, we decided to ask Keith some pertinent questions -- is Mag+ part of Ride BMX's future? What about the health of his printed magazine? And what of the new Ride BMX office, which comes complete with a brand new indoor skatepark? I bet you didn't see that one coming. Let's get stuck in.

ESPN.com: How's the new Ride office Keith? Space for a ramp?
Keith: The new office is really cool -- all of TransWorld's magazine staff and departments are in one place. The only downside is that it's a good distance from where all of the Ride editors live, so we're working remotely most of the time, and going to the Carlsbad office every couple of weeks when needed, and during deadline and production weeks. There is a warehouse in the building that will have a full park we'll be sharing with the TW Skateboarding crew -- it's in the design stage now. We're pretty excited about having a park to ride and do cool things with.

I guess a few changes have gone down at Ride BMX lately, like going to 9 issues per year, new office, new owners. How's the mag going in these times?
Yeah some changes, for sure. All of these changes have been spread out over the past few years, though, so I haven't really thought about them collectively. You'd think with all the negativity that is said about print and the economy these days that we're in a bad spot, but that's far from the truth. Even in these rough times, Ride is doing well. We run things lean and smart, and aside from the magazine, we have a great Web site, and events that are successful. Bonnier owns many small magazines/media outlets and knows how to make them very profitable. Ride BMX is small compared to other titles, but that doesn't mean we don't do well business-wise. Our issues are bumping up in page count, which says a lot about our business, as well as the industry as a whole. More ads means companies are selling more and growing. Overall, things are really good for us all around.

As a print guy through and through, how do you see the threat of Internet on print, and how are you meeting the challenges?
With the magazine, it's important to have the content be different from what you can find on the Internet or in other magazines. No one wants to pay for something they've already seen or heard about. I really don't see the Internet as a threat, especially when we have ridebmx.com. We're balanced well between print and the Web. With the new iPad and tablet computers coming out, the Internet is now an even bigger opportunity -- especially for us having a print magazine -- to do even greater things. Not that the Internet and Web sites have peaked by any means, but aside from apps and expanding mobile phone technology, nothing extraordinary has really happened lately online. It seems like the focus is on getting quality up versus any sort of evolution. We're still putting up text, photos and video. Three basic things. They're the staple of online media and they need to be presented well. I guess that's a big focus these days; make the site as good as it can be, constantly refine and improve, and produce as much original content as possible for readers.

I really don't see the Internet as a threat. We're balanced well between print and the web.

--Keith Mulligan/Ride BMX

I think it's kinda ironic how some Web sites are trying to emulate print mags. What's your take on all this?
Making a Web page look like a book page that turns over isn't exciting. And there are probably too many people out there with BMX Web sites trying to do the same things with them, but they fail in a number of ways. Just because you have a Web site, a digital camera, and know how to send and receive e-mails and/or copy and paste doesn't necessarily make you good at producing quality material, or make you important. I'm not sure where to go with this one, but I feel it's important for online sites to have some common sense and ethics along with a variety of skills that show, especially when claiming to be legit media.

OK, so Ride's parent company, Bonnier, is developing the Mag+ concept, bringing a new style of magazine format to a new tablet gadget. What do you think of that?

I think it's awesome. There are lots of opportunities with that concept to do some cool stuff. The Mag+ concept isn't a new device, but rather an idea of how a magazine can look and live on something like the iPad.

Can you see Ride working on this format, for example?
I can definitely see Ride working in a format like this. Ride BMX is already available in digital form on Zinio, but in a different format like the Mag+ concept it is more than just page-flipping PDFs with ad links. The possibilities are huge with what can be done with page variations, added features, video integration, etc. One thing that is important, especially with Ride BMX, is the layout and design. Each magazine is different with a unique reading experience. Ride's layout is as important as the photos and text, so what may work for one magazine in a Mag+-style format may not work well for another. I think it's important to keep a magazine's look and feel when on an iPad or similar device. There may be things that don't work as well with the printed page -- font readability/colors/etc. -- of course, and some things would most definitely work better digitally than on paper.

Are you guys doing any development work, like formatting Ride to this Mag+ deal?
We haven't done anything yet, and there hasn't been talk of anything, but hopefully soon.

I guess you can draw parallels with the way iPods hurt CD sales, digital versus tangible media, and the ability to store hundreds of CDs on one gadget. Would Mag+ store hundreds of mags on one gadget? And do you think Mag+ could hurt print sales?
I would imagine every issue would be a separate downloadable file, and as long as you've got enough memory you could store as many issues from as many different titles as you'd like on whatever device you're using. I think readers would definitely be willing to subscribe and buy issues of Ride for something like the iPad. And I think some readers, probably the older demographic, would like both versions -- print and digital. So while the potential to sell less printed copies is there, the potential to sell an even greater number of digital copies exists and it's exciting to think that a lot more kids could be getting the magazine, just in a new format.

Million-dollar question: is it a new dawn?
We'll see when all of these new tablet devices become available. It'll probably be a new dawn for magazines and print media, but not in a negative way. Magazines can still live and breathe, and still be printed on paper, but also live in another medium -- one that can evolve in different ways that paper won't allow. Worrying about Web sites killing magazines has come and gone. Now we have to worry about having enough memory on our iPads to store all the rad stuff that will be out there.