DIG recently sent advertisers a private email informing them of the magazines future re-launch plans. These plans include a shift in editorial direction, magazine size and making it available free through bike shops (while still being available on newsstands). These changes will take place with the next issue which will be available in September, and each issue will be treated as a “special edition” and follow a central theme.
I’m a super DIG fan and look forward to whatever they’re cooking up.
To avoid any misinformation on all this, I hit up Will Smyth (DIG’s founder) with some questions about it all. Click below to check it out.
DIG was always top on my list of mags, but were you guys getting bored with how the mag was going? Was this editorial change needed to keep the excitement going for you guys in-house?
That’s pretty much it. I’ve been making DIG for almost 20 years and we’ve always ebbed and flowed in slightly different directions. Some ideas worked and others didn’t but it would be pretty boring to produce 90 magazines with over 9,000 pages of content for almost half of my life if things didn’t change from time to time. Everything that we’re doing for this re-launch we’ve actually done before at some stage. We’ve randomly produced themed issues (from as far back as 1997), we’ve printed on much nicer paper stock on several occasions, and we’ve changed our magazine size about 5 times. As for how many design styles and changes we’ve went though, i couldn’t even begin to count. People have been comparing what we do to other BMX mags for as long as we’ve been around and suggesting that’s where we get our ideas. From a magazine content and design perspective my ideas have always come from outside of BMX. Unlike some others we’ve never shouted about what we’ve done so sometimes the credit for certain ideas and directions has gone elsewhere.
So, the thinking was based on what we liked and what the readers liked about individual issues/articles over the years. We’re effectively taking all of those best and most talked about ideas and trying to combine them into each issue… in turn making each issue more memorable and interesting. In short it’ll mean more of the good stuff and less of the content that’s not so memorable. We sometimes hear people say “DIG used to be better” but that’s primarily because our approach was slightly different than the other media back then and they were seeing something in DIG for the first time. The impact of that first time is really what people remember and that’s obviously irreplaceable. Ironically we used to get mocked by the people who didn’t ‘get’ DIG for showing too much street riding or running photos of of people (gasp!…) ‘not riding their bikes’… or unbelievably, for covering road trips with the worlds best riders that were going to also appear on video. This is now pretty much what makes up the bulk of content of almost every magazine today. And the more you see it, the less impact it has.
In regards to the “free” aspect, do you see this as a necessary business model for the mags success?
It’s important to note that what we’re doing this very differently and we’re not actually ‘going free’ as such, nor have we announced that we are (contrary to what you may have read elsewhere). What we are doing is extending our distribution by giving good BMX distros a limited quantity of magazines to distribute via their best BMX dealers. We’re still going to be for sale on the newsstand worldwide (this is where most of our readers are) and we’re still going to be offering subscriptions with free gifts etc (remember if you subscribe you’re still going to be getting the mag delivered to your door quicker than everyone else), but if you’re in the UK or the USA you’ll be able to grab a free copy courtesy of your local bike shop… if you can get in early enough. Just remember to show them your support and buy something when you’re there too!
I definitely don’t think it’s a necessary business model for every magazine but if a competitor starts giving away anything for free then you have to look at it; much like a bike company would have to re-consider their approach if a new bike company started giving anything away for free.
I first went to our publisher with an idea similar to this about 2 years ago when CASE first appeared. We knew we didn’t want to leave the newsstand but we weren’t sure how it could work in reality. Since then it’s become clear that advertisers like the concept of free magazines in bike shops so that’s we decided to look at it again and finally work out the logistics. We’ve worked out a way to cover both bases so that definitely gives us an advantage.
In your experience, would you say doing a mag is getting harder each year, or is it just stable?
It’s always been hard. I honestly can’t remember a time in the past 19 years when i haven’t thought that the mag isn’t going to last more than another year or so. I guess that’s one of the reasons why it’s lasted so long… we’re always trying and i’m never 100% content with what we produce. Most importantly though, i still love doing it and i realise just how lucky i am to be doing this. The only real difficulties have been on the couple of occasions where i’ve been screwed over by publishers (both times i came very close to quitting) but right now we’re lucky enough to be working with a publisher who just lets me get on with it. People would like you to believe that publishers dictate what goes into the mag but that’s just typical crap drummed up to try and sell you something else. If i was producing DIG independently it would be the same mag editorially but we’d be printing way less copies, we wouldn’t be able to pay our regular photographers /writers a worthy rate, and the ad prices for the core BMX companies would have to be higher… just to survive.
Running a magazine is such a time consuming process and since we’ve also relaunched our website it been almost like adding another full time job to the mix. (We’ve managed to double our traffic in the first 4 months since our relaunch so it’s been a worthwhile experience…especially in terms of direct/positive feedback). Having a good crew around you also helps keep things stable and right now we’re working with a steady crew of Rob Dolecki, Ricky Adam, Fred Murray, Andrew White and Joey Cobbs. They, along with a ton of other loyal contributors, definitely make a difference in keeping me wanting to continually move things forward.
If the magazine ended tomorrow though i’d be proud in the knowledge that i’ve ran a magazine for 19 years that’s always stuck to my original goals of producing primarily positive content that gets people stoked on riding. And, it’s somewhere that the BMX industry can advertise at a reasonable/affordable rate. I’m not interested in drama or gossip in any shape or form and in my experience neither of those things have ever made anyone want to ride a bike. DIG is there as a vehicle for creativity and positivity on both sides of the camera and that will in turn hopefully help keep people stoked on riding and photography/art, or, continue to inspire new people to get involved.
Of course, this all reminds us of the Albion, even though they didn’t invent the “free” model. Do you guys embrace this comparison or is it a thorn in your side?
As i mentioned before though we’re doing something different, so although there will be comparisons they’re not entirely valid. I imagine any comparisons will be fairly temporary too as that’s the apparent nature of everything these days. You only have to be around for 5 minutes and some people will be slapping you on the back.. and then they’ll be stabbing you in the back after 10 minutes. That’s just the way of the world. I’d probably say we’re tickled by it if anything.
Will these changes allow you guys to experiment even more with the mag a little as you see fit? Things such as Layout, the covers etc…?
We’ve regularly experimented with both over the years and seeing as we’re still on the newsstand we’re limited to an extent. The newsstands themselves are becoming more flexible in what they allow though and hopefully that will help. The general misconception is that a publisher always determines what’s in a magazine and what’s on the cover. In reality (for us anyways) the 3 main restrictions are the newsstands themselves, the law and occasionally some advertisers (and not the ones you’d think). My main goal with this re-launch though is to put some fun and energy back into DIG so i’m sure you’ll see a more cover experimentation than we’ve had recently and a few new ideas for the mag will be thrown into the mix too. We’ve got a lot of loyal readers out there and i think they’ll be stoked on what we come up with.