Q&A: Will Smyth Discusses DIG’s New Direction

DIG site 1

DIG BMX as you have come to know it is changing. How? Well, after 21 years the actual print magazine has ceased to exist and all energy is being redirected online. This new direction may or may not come as a surprise these days, but it is surely a welcome change.

I have always been a huge fan of DIG and I’ve got my fingers crossed that they can continue doing what they do in digital form. With that said, there is a new site and new staff in place to tackle such changes. As always, I threw Will Smyth (DIG’s editor) some questions about it all. Continue reading and stay tuned to DIG BMX.

First off, how much of a blow is it that the print version of DIG is done? The magazine has been your baby for many years.

We’re all actually motivated to do something new so it’s genuinely not a blow at all. It’s quite the opposite in fact. This change in direction is something that we’ve chosen to do as opposed to something that we’ve been forced to do. I actually came up with the idea about this time last year, way ahead of the opportunity arising for me to buy DIG back from our old publisher. In reality, people not seeing the work that we’ve been doing in DIG over the years has constantly been the real blow for us.

I’ve been making DIG for 21 years straight and as we got closer to issue 100 I realised that I wanted things to change when we reached that milestone. I work with some amazing people who create some of the best content out there but nowhere near enough people get to see their work. We’ve done pretty much everything I ever wanted to do in print and I wasn’t sure I could take it any further as a bi-monthly magazine. I even considered walking away at one point if the magazine had been going strong past this year. DIG has always been much more than a job to me and i’ve never wanted to go through the motions just for the sake of keeping it going.

To some this answer might seem like it’s saving face but honestly, after 21 years of deadlines and doing what we’ve done i’m really really proud of what we’ve achieved – and even more so now that we’re getting to do this entirely on our own terms. I’ve always had nagging fears about DIG fading away but doing things this way is exactly what i want. At this point i’m 100% over regular print deadlines too. Making a change at this time was needed for me to retain my motivation on DIG. 21 years is a long haul doing the same thing whilst remaining motivated and positive about any project – personal or not. For us this is genuinely a positive forward move. I definitely wouldn’t have said that 2 or 3 years ago but with magazines you tend to spend a lot of your life with your head down focusing on the next deadline.

Not to fuel the “print is dead” crowd, but what ultimately caused the magazine to end?

As much as a I still love print there was no energy left for us to keep making that bi-monthly magazine in a format that relatively few people would see. Nor was there any real desire from the majority of potential (credible) advertisers or subscribers for that to keep happening. We could exist in print of we wanted to compromise the integrity of DIG as a publication but I’ve always vowed to never go down that route. Even giving magazines away for free wasn’t a viable option. Something else we explored was doing less frequent / smaller print runs with less pages, but that would have just felt like backwards step. And again there was no desire from ourselves to do that – it just wasn’t an exciting prospect.

Every major BMX magazine that you see on the newsstand today (and a few of the major online outlets) only exist for commercial reasons. Without publishers, those titles and jobs are gone. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a a fact. We’ve been happy to make the most of those situations whenever they’ve been available to us with various publishers over the years but it was always a battle to retain our integrity within those setups. It’s nice to know we’ll always exist in some form because thankfully DIG is 100% ours again… and much like in the beginning, we’re no longer commercially driven to the same degree. I’m all for people making a good living (or any living) working within BMX but never at the expense of making BMX look like a shit-show.

I’ve never compromised the integrity of DIG for money and i’m not going to start now. Compromise would be the only way to keep going in print – even if we’d wanted to keep going. Sounds a little too good to be true for some but that’s the way it is for me.

Print is far from dead though. It just has to evolve. We’ve got a DIG 100 book to come later this year and we’ll be doing one off yearly DIG publications of some sort just to keep that print heritage alive. We just won’t be basing our business around it.

Being on the opposite end of this situation now, what are the challenges you see for print magazines moving forward?

Well, pretty much all of the above. Magazines will always exist in some form but they all can’t continue to exist using what was the old tried and tested business model. Unless you’ve got a really strong subscription base i’d say it’s pretty much downhill from here on in for everyone. We’ve been aware of these impending changes for at least 5 years though and we’ve always had a strong online presence because of that. We were the first BMX publication to combine our print content with credible online content too but it’s only now that the time has felt right to fully make the switch. Ironically, making things work financially online is currently just as hard as making them work in print. The big difference is that the momentum is definitely with online and that’s not changing anytime soon.

Onto the future… Basically, DIG is the first major BMX magazine that has fully transitioned from print to strictly online/digital. How has that process been going?

I’d say we’re the first truly international title that’s made the transition. In France you have Art magazine who put together a magazine in the same format that they used for print but now only make it available to view online, and in Australia you have Focal Point who’ve probably come the closest to doing it right so far.

We looked way beyond BMX though to get inspiration for what we want to do. Once we found what we wanted we then had to find someone who could build it from scratch too. It’s been an expensive process but we’re excited about this like we were about originally getting a magazine printed all those years ago. It’s been a fun and interesting process so far. Figuring out a schedule for content delivery is the last piece of the jigsaw that we’re still working on right now. I imagine that’s something that’ll evolve as we go along too. It’s not likely we’ll get everything 100% right overnight.

“The digital landscape” is obviously an important one. Do you welcome this change with open arms?

I definitely welcome it. It’s like when digital photography started to get better. We embraced it fairly early on but it did cause some drama at the time with various photographers. It actually made magazine production a hell a of a lot easier and a lot lot cheaper (saving postage and processing costs for example) and without it a lot of print titles would have probably disappeared 10 years ago. BMX keeps evolving so it makes sense for our media to do the same. It’s all about introducing whatever is available to us at the right time. I think it’s taken people a while to work out what they like and how best any digital media works for them.

Do you find any satisfaction in being able to publish material almost instantly?

In some ways the internet has killed the idea of anticipation so what excites me about this isn’t the instant gratification but rather the ability to reach way more people with good content. There’s a shitload of content out there right now and for the most part we want to offer something different that isn’t just about that instant fix. The flexibility of online media is the biggest benefit of this whole thing as far as i’m concerned.

What can people expect from an online version of DIG? DIG was a great magazine, so will you carry over the same ideas/content/feel online?

For me this is probably the most important part about all of this – what we’re going to be doing is still very much going to be DIG. It’ll be the same vibe, the same direction, the same people (along with a bunch of new ones of course). DIG is still very much alive. We hope people learn to love it as we go along, much like they did with the magazine.

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In my opinion, consistent original interesting online content is king outside of re-blogging key important day-to-day stuff to keep people informed. What does DIG have up its sleeve in terms of consistent content?

Aside from transferring a lot of those ideas that we used in print (full length interviews, monthly themes, we’ll also be focussing heavily on video and we’ve got a number of different series ideas in the works with the video producers you can see listed in my answer to the next question).

It’s always a fine line with respecting the past whilst appreciating and understanding what could be the future but it’s something that i feel we’ve always balanced well with DIG. One of the first projects we’ll be running with will relates to company owners (with some of the best riders on their teams) who themselves were incredibly progressive riders. We’ve got 4 documentaries in the works already – the first is with Ian Morris of United who was actually one one the most innovative street riders of the nineties. There’s 3 other serious names lined up for that series too. Once we’re up and running we’ll be announcing full schedules for all of our upcoming content.

As ever we’ll continue to look forward within BMX though with that occasional nod to the past where and when appropriate. We’re not only sitting on 35 years of BMX history but we have 21 years of solid magazine content to share also. For our launch week we’ll have articles on The Chocolate Truck Crew, a NJ article headed up by Ralph Sinisi, a pool/transitions trip from LA featuring a WTP crew, BSD in Minneapolis, some wild NBD’s from BCN and a ton more. We’ll be dropping unique content every day from here on in.

Who do you have on staff?

We’ve taken a while to assemble this crew but i’m stoked about having the opportunity to work with these guys.

Fred Murray is running this whole thing with me so we’ve got him alongside Rob Dolecki, Andrew White, Vince Perraud, George Marshall and David Leep. Devon Hutchins will also be shooting photos and video for us along with filmers Stew Jonson, Peter Adam, James Cox, Rich Forne, Veesh, Scott Mcmenamin and Thibaut Grevet (from The Diggest). Thibaut’s amazing Perspectives series will now move over to be part of DIG too. We honestly couldn’t be more stoked about that and there’s some amazing content lined up from him and the others this year.

Luke Godson will still be providing us with his amazing design work and we’ll also be getting various editorial contributions (words/photo/video) from the likes of Ricky Adam, Chris Marshall, Devin Feil, Steve Crandall, Sean Burns, Alex Donnachie, Christian Rigal, John Paul Rogers, Paulo Martins, Brian Barnhart, Dan Foley, Kevin Conners, Dean Dickinson, Scott Marceau, Scott Towne and hopefully many more.

How will DIG online differ from existing BMX media sites?

I guess we’ll be editing this thing like we edited our print mag so we’ll be keeping the bar for photography and content raised as high as we can. Right now It’s not about page views or anything else. It’s about creating cool content (in our opinion) that hopefully gets people stoked on riding.

We consistently need good photography to document BMX and we need good interviews and good articles in any format to document our BMX history properly. Personally i think we need to tell the story with more than instagram pics and 3 minute web edits. Both of those things are great for the here and now but they might be all we’re left with if we’re not careful.

We’ve been approaching advertising a little differently too with our main focus being on a limited number of selective brands. We’re not opening our ad space up to anyone and everyone because we’d never do that with our editorial space (and we’re asking you to look at both). We only want you to see what we consider to be the best of what’s out there. There’s way too many companies in BMX and in my opinion there’s a lot that don’t bring much to the table. If anything they’re just getting in the way of those legit brands that do the good stuff and help keep BMX progressive, cool, interesting and fun.

I’m stoked to say that about 90% of the companies we approached have agreed to support us and genuinely believe in what we’re doing. Sure there’s a few more that we’d like to get involved down the line but hopefully that will come. Chasing advertising can be a soul destroying experience so we made a decision early on to only work with people who we believe in and who show a genuine interest in wanting to work with us. A massive thank you goes out to those people and brands that are willing to take this leap of faith with us.

Thanks Will, anything you would like to add before we wrap this up?

Thanks to you guys for this opportunity to get the word out. It’s taken longer than we maybe expected to get everything set up but I wanted to be sure that we get this as close to being right as possible. Everyone has been extremely patient throughout this whole process and i can’t really thank them (our readers, staff, contributors, advertisers) enough for that. I’ve been leaving people hanging on email a lot lately! We all effectively lost our jobs back in February when we bought DIG back and we haven’t been able to pay any of us anything since. Despite that, all the contributors have stuck with it through this 5 month drought and their loyalty means the world to me. From day one DIG has been about friendships as much as anything and 21 years in i’m proud to say that’s still the case.

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Stay tuned to DIG BMX.

  • Brian Barnhart

    Stoked!

  • nIgor

    will it work as an electronic subscription or will it be funded by advertisement, like vital?

  • DIG BMX

    There’ll be no subscription necessary. Thanks for the support!

  • James Hilton

    This is awesome news – when I started Wideopenmag back in 2007, I wanted a free, digital mag with the production and editorial quality of printed mags rather than a website… We made the transition last year from online to print, but still kept things free – mind we all have day jobs and Jamie and the rest of the editorial crew commit a huge amount of their personal time to the project. Reading this interview has got me excited about possibilities for the future, good luck, I’ll stay tuned.

  • Brooks Reynolds

    Dig was one of the first magazine’s to give me a chance. I can’t wait to see more online.

    A final print issue or something like that would be cool. Any plans for something like that?

  • BMX Board

    Some nice sentiments in there but did anyone else spot these massively hypocritical gems?

    “Every major BMX magazine that you see on the newsstand today (and a few of the major online outlets) only exist for commercial reasons. Without publishers, those titles and jobs are gone. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact.”

    So are you trying to insinuate that you’ll be making no profit at all and that any profits you do make will be fed back into the business? Are you also claiming that sites and magazines that do exist are ONLY motivated by profit and not by groups of people with an enthusiasm for BMX? Highly doubtful in our opinion.

    “I’m all for people making a good living (or any living) working within BMX but never at the expense of making BMX look like a shit-show.”

    Who exactly IS making BMX look like a shit-show? Is it Vital with their tediously bland content and design? Is it Ride US who are still using the early 90s “my first BMX magazine” design? Is it Adam22 with his cringey hoodrat-wannabe approach, receding hairline and stat-whore posting of dumb ass crash videos? Is it Ride UK with all their typos and shitty embedded video players? Or maybe you’re referring to certain riders? Like the dudes with the Rocker bikes, ridiculous cars and fake teeth – Please tell us EXACTLY who you are referring to please. You can’t just throw a high n mighty statement like that out there with no nod to who you’re referring to.

    “One of the first projects we’ll be running with will relates to company owners (with some of the best riders on their teams) who themselves were incredibly progressive riders.”

    And no doubt key advertisers too..! Ughhh.

    “I’ve never compromised the integrity of DIG for money and i’m not going to start now.”

    Anyone else remember a few years ago when the mag just looked like a Nike 6.0 catalogue every issue?

  • ffm

    This is awesome. Quite a few good things are happening in bmx lately

  • crm

    “So are you trying to insinuate that you’ll be making no profit at all and that any profits you do make will be fed back into the business?”

    I don’t think that was suggested at all! It sounds to me like an unbiased statement about the industry: “That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact.”

    “Please tell us EXACTLY who you are referring to”

    Isn’t it a little bit mean to get that personal? We’re all riders afterall, and even if we have different ideas/goals we shouldn’t tear each other to shreds.

    “And no doubt key advertisers too..! Ughhh.”

    Everyone has to make some money, why are you such a pessimist?!

    Your comment about that magazine looking like a Nike catalogue is almost understandable however I don’t think it’s as damaging as you make out. The quality of the content is the most important thing, and if a big company like Nike can help the magazine survive then nice content can actually get created.

    Overall it seems like you dislike most of the BMX industry just now. Maybe you’re not the best person to talk on the subject?

  • Nick Hayday

    Maybe something to do with Will formerly being employed by Nike as European something or other…..

  • nIgor

    thank YOU!

  • Pies

    Really stoked to see DIG continue, however I think the potential difficulties in their new direction is that they could loose the ability to be able to navigate to a certain article in the same fashion as a printed product. I’m all one for change, but the idea of the tactility and personal connection with a printed product, in contrast to a domain you look at on screen, means we might gain this sense of disposable media. Saying this, DIG has been the best and most reliable BMX publication, and I’m sure they’ll prosper.

  • BMXFU

    They’ll lose out on ad sales because of their sXe policy. Everyone knows that BMX in 2014 is all about Weed + Pegs.

  • Dan Parnham

    I have a question….
    What happens to my Magazine Subscription?
    I am sure i had a few months/issues remaining on it.
    Also i have never recieved the last issue (100) from Dig.

  • Dave Parrick’s Ghost

    no Tight Setup, no care

  • Austin

    I remember when I was 16.

  • aikens todd

    Good luck on the new venture. Finally a website thats gonna be done the right way instead of just following the trends of today “The Come Up”. When I read who was on board as far as photographers & videographers are concerned there’s no doubt in my mind that your website is truly gonna change the game.

  • aikens todd

    Says who? The TMZ of BMX “The Come Up” and the Perez Hilton of BMX “Adam22”. That trend following shit is lame and when Dig launches its site alot of lame sites will be exposed. Say bye bye to the #1 website in BMX moniker.

  • John Cooper

    RIP to a truly iconic mag, can’t wait for the digital revamp

  • The ghost of Adam22’s toupee

    Whatever dude, half of those fools are washed up and don’t even ride anyway. You think 4 gay hands inside a chainring is enough to compete with 4 pegs and Tony the cat? Get real squid brains…

  • aikens todd

    The Come Up is straight up bullshit!!! Look at the Dig staff as far videographers and photographers is concerned Rob Dolecki, Stew Johnson, etc…… The death of The Come Up is near, if that bullshit doesn’t die it just won’t be popular as it was and that’s when there gonna start some bullshit beef for views. If you noticed they haven’t even mentioned that Dig was going all digital and that’s huge news.

  • Tony The Cat

    Get a grip goon, just cos adam didnt post your wanky trails scene edit your kicking off. You think a bunch of 40 year olds are gonna bring down the world’s most popular website? GET REAL FOOL.

  • aikens todd

    Lmao this is hilarious

  • Grandy D

    YOU’RE HILARIOUS

  • Inigo

    Best of luck with digital edition, have to say dig was one magazine i used to find very tactile and used to keep them for years, what about a once yearly printed journal with the best interviews features and photos?, as a non bmxer now id still pick that up for nostalgias sake. anyway good luck


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