Bike magazine lives to Ride another day

by Steve Watson in February 2011
Share on Facebook, Twitter or Copy Link

When I bumped into Philip Diprose, editor of The Ride Journal a few months ago, he said he and his brother were planning to take a break from the magazine. But with the new issue out and fresh submissions already pouring in, it looks like he’s changed his mind. I gave him a call last week and he filled me in on the benefits of commercial suicide – and why it’s okay to backpedal on a decision from time to time.

I couldn’t make it to the launch party for this issue – how did it go?
Each launch has been a vague progression on the last one, and after having the last one at [London cycle café] Look Mum No Hands, we wanted to have it back there. So we put the word out on as many channels as we could and it went really well. It was the usual lovely mix of people who had contributed to the issue, people who are friends of the magazine, and still a selection of people who had just heard about it and wanted to get involved. At the party for issue four we took about 100 copies and just about sold out of those, and at this one we took 175 and we sold all of those – I think there was only one person who didn’t get one, so that was good. Apart from the person who didn’t get one!

So the event is obviously a good place for you to sell magazines, but what’s the mix of other places you sell? Do you tend to sell more through the website, or through magazine shops or cycling shops?
It’s a continually shifting dynamic. For issue four there were nearly 1,400 sold through the website, then after that I’m happy for the magazines to go to either magazine shops or bike shops. I think both have their merit – I certainly wouldn’t want us to be a design magazine that’s about bikes, but I’m very happy for us to be a bike magazine that happens to be quite well designed. I know it’s all semantics, but I’d never want us to be seen as style over substance.

That said, it’s usually the design shops that order the biggest amounts in one hit, so places like Magma, Analogue Books, Papercut in Sweden, Do You Read Me in Amsterdam and places like that, they’ll order large chunks. We’re also now in Stanfords map shop and the Design Museum as well, and on Monday we’re sending a couple of boxes to be in the Tate shop, which I think is the closest I’ll ever come to having anything of mine displayed in a gallery!

So it’s continuing to spread?
That’s right. And in a Coppola-esque family cartel sort of way my wife is now head of shop sales and so instead of me spending the evening working on the journal on my own, she now has to spend her evenings doing it as well.

I bet she’s delighted.
Yes. The reason being that she makes a mean Excel document, and I know that when she wants to be she can be frighteningly well organised with things like that. She’s already got an amazing system in place and I think she was mildly appalled at the state that things were in after issues one to four.

Well everyone can appreciate the beauty of a good Excel spreadsheet.

Exactly. And this one tells me how many issues we’ve sold and what I’m having for dinner tonight. Or what I’m cooking for dinner is probably closer to the truth.

But even with the new help, I presume you’re going to stay small? I’m always getting people contacting me asking if I’ve got any copies left, because you’re sold out of everything aren’t you?
I think people assume that we’re much more of a commercially-driven enterprise than we really are. These days people have to wring every last penny out of what they can and if that means sitting with a stack of back-issues in your flat waiting until someone wants to buy them then so be it. But as the commercial suicide that I’ve always said we are, we could reprint another 1,000 copies of issue one, but the trouble is that not only would it devalue the original issues, it would only take work letting people know about it, setting up a way for people to order old issues and all that.

And we don’t want to do that. It’s either laziness on our part, or it’s an attitude of, “that’s in the past now, that’s done with – let’s think of the next thing”. But it’s always funny because we get lots of emails, most of them very polite, but all insinuating that it’s somehow our duty to produce some back issues for people who missed the magazines the first time around.

So is there ever any temptation to leave that commercial suicide behind? Or are you happy with things the way they are?
I think that so much would have to change, and we’d have to give up on so many of the basic things that make the bedrock ideals that the journal was founded on… the thing of it not being saturated with adverts, the idea of it being as aesthetically pleasing as possible, even down to the custom size, because if you’re going down the route of maximising money there are so many ways you can do it like cheaper paper, going for a standard size rather than a custom size. But when we were talking about that, the idea of having an uneven row of issue sizes was totally abhorrent – it turned our stomachs to think of a graveyard-style row of magazines that weren’t lined up perfectly.

So that’s it now – you’re stuck with it because of the size of the magazine.
Yes I think so. What was a throwaway decision by Andrew about the size of the magazine is now a shackle that we have to live with. But it’s a very beautifully shaped shackle.

You told me quite a long time ago that this issue is going to be your last for a little while. Is that still the case?
I’ve possibly crumbled on that. But there’s definitely going to be a longer than normal break. The thing is that most people assume we take a break anyway because it takes eight months to get an issue out – I think people assume that I have a six-month holiday and then cram in a few bike emails and get it done in two months.

But that’s not true?
No. In fact, despite me saying I was going to have a break, just this lunchtime I was reading an article that I think may well make it into the next issue. The trouble is that I’m still dealing with issue five, talking to the shops and doing everything I can to promote the new issue, but I’m conscious of the fact that when people get in touch you do want to ride the wave of enthusiasm, so you want to reply to them now as fully as possible, rather than just saying, “I’ll get back to you in a couple of months”. But Andrew and I are starting to talk about a special limited edition version of issue six, and I think you’re the first person that I’ve mentioned this to. We’re still working the details out at the moment, so all I can say is that we’d still be producing the “normal” journal, but we’d also be making something special for a small number who might be interested.

I can’t wait to hear more about that. But what about the main magazine itself? It’s stayed pretty much the same since the first issue – are you ever tempted to change it up?
That’s a very good question, and one that we’ve discussed at length. It’s very difficult, because we don’t want to alienate anyone or change it too much, but we are wary of just looking like we’re the same thing all the time. So I think that most of what we do can keep changing and keep fluctuating slightly – most of what we do will stay the same but there’s always room for slight design tweaks. We might try and get in some slightly larger pieces instead of just having a couple of longer articles at the end, so we’re going to tweak things slightly but it will always be very much an evolution rather than a massive redesign. But a lot of that is obviously Andrew’s domain, and the amount of emails I get telling me how amazing the magazine looks, makes me realise that he’s the talent in this operation.

Well he certainly knows what he’s doing, but then in the letter I sent out to subscribers this month I noted that the writing seems to be getting stronger, and the editor’s letter has become much more whimsical, poetic even. It looks like there’s a growing confidence there.
Like we’ve found our feet a little?

Possibly yeah. Do you feel like that?
I suppose I do. I think that especially for me, having not come from a magazine background, it’s been a very sharp learning curve and each issue is very much a new set of problems to think about. But maybe there is a new confidence to it now. I’m certainly more discerning about the writing because we now know what works and what doesn’t work, some of which is things I would have assumed and some has come from hearing what people did and didn’t think worked that well. But I’d certainly like to think there’s a confidence about it now… You can only be on red alert for so many days before you have to relax a little bit.

Close Icon

Join our magazine club! Subscribe to Stack and every month we'll pick a different independent title and deliver it to your door. You never know what you'll get next...

Subscribe now