Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Bike magazines – how is print doing?

Posted by Matt | February 17, 2021 | 11 comments so far

Bike magazines
Is print dead? It seems so sometimes, but you can still turn trees into gold. It’s just not easy.

Nor is it getting any easier. The big driver of print sales has for years been subscription models, getting people tied in to regular payments while retail sales provide the extra shizzle on top – extra sales, new customers and so on.

For years that retail trade has been in slow but steady decline. It affects not only their immediate income but also their pipeline to more valuable subscription customers, so the challenge is ongoing.

I bring all this up because I think all of us on some level are consumers of bike industry publications. We all have our favourites, we have the ones we tolerate and the ones we’re really not impressed with but they all serve a useful purpose in getting people drawn in to the cycling world.

Sales figures

The ABC sales figures for magazines were released last week for 2020, a year as challenging to print magazines as it has been for everyone else. I was both surprised and unsurprised by the results.

According to Cycling Industry News, Cyclist Magazine was a ‘winner’, with a circulation of 21,353, an increase of 3.1% year on year. Of these, three quarters or so (15,275) were to subscribers, showing just how valuable those sales are with only 5,972 sales coming from off the shelf sales. A quick bit of math tells you that with a retail price of £5.99 that’s a turnover of just under £128K per issue. That’s… sobering isn’t it? But over a 12 issue year, it’s £1.5m so it’s not to be sniffed at either.

A bigger turnover comes from Cycling Plus, which manages 28,925 sales per month, giving it a turnover of £173K a month or £2.07m a year. Again, a big chunk comes from subscriptions at 19,564 and 9,388 retail sales. What’s alarming is while subscription levels have stayed steady, retail sales have fallen from 17,439 in 2018…

Closer to home perhaps, Mountain Biking UK is at a similar level in terms of sales to Cyclist Magazine, with 21,465 sales per month, of which 14,505 are subscriber-based and just 6,960 are off the shelf. That overall figure has again fallen from 27,382 in 2018.

So the trends are clearly downward in general, but in each case bringing in £1.5m to £2m a year in sales is not small beer. The question of course is profitability and that much harder to determine. Certainly print costs have risen but then it’s fair to say each publication is pushing for more and more digital subscribers. The greater question is a Covid conundrum; was 2020 an accelerant to the future of print sales, or a blip?


One thing is for sure and that is there’s an awful lot of digital competition out there, from riding groups and commenters like the Moles, to some pretty slick outfits. The Pinkbike/Cycling Tips group are bloody good (if you get past their horrible homepages), Flow Mountain Bike in Australia are decent as is the evergreen Bikerumor. has a strong and respected niche and even manages to get eyeballs despite being the Grauniad of the digital world and offering relatively lightweight reviews. And then there’s Singletrack; an outlier itself with a loyal following but non-traditional digital offering.

You would think with interest in cycling clearly growing that publishers would be thinking innovatively; for example the Wiggles of this world often hand out packets of Haribo with purchases. They are a little boost to buyers on opening their boxes. Why not throw in copies of magazines – perhaps from the month previous if you have stock, or vouchers to take to newsagents? Or do a deal with physical shops and put a copy in with every bike sold; not to clinch a deal (hardly) but to keep the ecosystem ticking over.

What’s important is bringing new people in to the cycling world. I’m not sure any of that is easy to do without getting magazines – physical magazines – into people’s hands to be passed round, read and re-read or flicked through in newsagents, barbers and so on. Magazines with inspiring stories, glorious pictures and detailed product pictures.

I hope print finds a level where it can continue to contribute because falling sales are of no use to anyone.

Filed under 2021, News in February 2021


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 11 comments on ‘Bike magazines – how is print doing?’

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  1. StevenD says:

    I get Mountain Biking UK for free via my library card on RBDigital (Cycling Plus and Cycling Weekly are also available), and I have to say that MBUK is just absolute rubbish, there is no way I would buy it. The articles are boring and irrelevant to many riders, the reviews are random, biased and badly written, and the routes are poorly thought out – it is like someone is playing join the dots on an OS Map (based on local knowledge and trying a couple). Even where MBUK has a good idea, such as servicing tips – it is poorly presented. The information available online is so much better, and that is the problem these magazines have, why buy a magazine when I can just turn on my tablet etc. They need to up their game on all fronts, being a mag with MTB in the title is not enough.

    • Matt says:

      Totally agree with your thoughts on MBUK Steven but it’s still hanging in there. Clearly put together on a shoe-string if you ask me. But then plenty of online sites are rubbish too.

      It seems to me print generally is playing defence and fighting over an ever smaller pie. It doesn’t have to be that way but it requires imagination and a recognition that online/offline can be complimentary with one model feeding the other.

  2. Elliot says:

    I guess those sales have been heavily affected by less people going to shops in the last year due to covid. But print has an uphill struggle on its hands when Pinkbike, Flow, Vital and NSMB are so good for free.

    What I didn’t realise, is WH Smith actually make publications pay to rent the shelf space. Further, unsold copies are at the publication’s cost, not the retailer. They have a monopoly in this country, so not only does this make selling in shops unprofitable for some smaller magazines, but it also means we don’t get anything interesting imported. Just crap like Cycling Weekly and OK!. Be great to see a Mountain Flyer or Australian Mountain Bike.

    Also, can’t stand lightweight reviews. Most in the last MBUK I had were no longer than a paragraph and basically just copied the product description from the website. Sending out all this free stuff is factored into the price ordinary customers pay, so the least they could do is find something to complain about.

    • Matt says:

      I know all about WH Smith (and Menzies Wholesale) as my old man had a newsagent shop.

      Basically, everything you see on the shelves is Sale or Return, so the only risk to the publisher is printing too many and having to pulp them. Not only that, but every part of the country is divided into either – in those days – a Smiths area or Menzies area. If they didn’t want to supply you, you had no business which is why you don’t see magazines discounted.

      I do think print has its place and cover sales are not it’s only source of revenue – there’s advertising for a start and those subscriber numbers offer plenty of demographic data to mine. You just need to be clever curating your tribe.

      As for reviews, too many are re-hashes of manufacturer marketing, as are many news stories. I find magazines and internet sites that are more objective far more useful but it’s a fine line; I don’t want to hear the personal convictions of individual writers if there’s no balance.

      Quite often a product works for some people and not others; the real question is always ‘does this product work for it’s intended audience‘? That question is rarely reflected and every product is the best thing since sliced bread or deeply uncool and never reviewed anyway.

  3. Xavier says:

    I’d given up on online magazines but shall try again and take a look at the ones offered above. The online magazines I’ve looked at in the past were trying to replicate a paper copy on a digital screen. You would constantly be moving content around as you can’t see a decent amount at one time

    • Matt says:

      I agree Xavier, those online mags that are like paper versions but online are truly horrible, especially the ones that mimic the page turns etc. Really bad, you have to play to the strengths that each medium offers.

      Another good online site is EnduroMTB. All the sites I’ve mentioned are good with their words as well their photography. All best on desktop vs. mobile, you are right that images need plenty of space.

  4. Tony Gordon says:

    A bit like StevenD does I have a Readly App subcription. £8 a month or so. Cycling Weekly, Cycling Plus, Procycling, MBR, Bicycling, Cyclist. As well as all the newspapers and motoring, music and hifi crap I read. It’s a wonder I have time to go outside on a bike!

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