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THE WORLD OF CHOPPER MAGAZINES RELEASED

The Ups and Downs of Print Media

By Bandit and a handful of Editors
1/9/2023


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I thought I might check in on the Motorcycle Magazine industry, specifically the chopper guys. Fuck, I didn’t know what I was diving into. A couple of years ago only one magazine survived the cost issues, the internet competition and the distribution expenses, Cycle Source. Some magazines went sorta underground, changed their formats and dropped out of the retail market. Then Chopper Magazine returned with a large glossy format, quality printing but subscription only.



I got caught up in a recent editorial: Here we are with another issue of everyone’s favorite chopper rag. Issue 10 is jam-packed with some of the best bikes we’ve featured to date, including one from the legendary chopper builder Micah McCloskey.

Micah in Choppers Mag.
Micah in Choppers Mag.



As a longtime fan of Micah’s builds featuring his Panhead is an honor, hence the cover. When Keith Ball offered to do the write-up, I was equally honored. It’s not every day you get legends in the chopper game to be in your magazine. If you don’ know who Keith Ball is, you might know him from his longtime pen name, Bandit.

Read this book quick, before it's too late!
Read this book quick, before it's too late!



Bandit is responsible for the Easyriders of yesteryear we all loved and cherished. He has also written a few books, including Outlaw Justice and Sam “Chopper” Orwell.



Let’s not forget he’s the founder of Bikernet.com, one of the first biker lifestyle websites ever created. Without Keith, there would not be this version of Choppers Magazine. He has been a friend, a mentor, and a constant source of biker knowledge for me to turn to. Look for a full feature on Bandit’s ’48 UL in an upcoming issue.
 
--Cary Brobeck
Publisher
Choppers Magazine 

I couldn’t ask for a better tribute and Choppers Magazine is a standout publication with high quality sheet-fed printing, and layout by the master art director, Beatnik. It’s a magazine devoted to old school choppers and West Coast events.

“I Think Choppers Magazine is doing the right thing, heavy paper, so it looks good for years,” said Guy Bolton the publisher of Greasy Kulture in England. “In Japan, they use stamp size photos to put as many folks as possible in the magazines?! Making them buy…”


Here’s a major challenge to our magazine industry. When Easyriders started in 1971, it was the one and only lifestyle magazine for us chopper freaks. If you wanted wild action, we were the only game on the planet. Think about that for a minute, while you ponder the perfect example of the changing times challenge. When I sent Michael Lichter to cover the Sturgis rally in 1979 there were just 12,000 brothers peeling into the area to burn the toilets down in City Park, by the 50th anniversary in 1990, 500,000 brothers and sisters scrambled into the Black Hills for the shoot-out anniversary.

Imagine the variety of bikes at that rally in 1990. No magazine could cover everything featured at that one explosion of chopper/custom/bagger action. Harley-Davidson played a major roll with the introduction of the Evo drivetrain and then the FXR. Guys could ride all over the world with an Evo under them and they did. So, think about the 50th anniversary crew of family guys, women riders, outlaws, custom builders, touring riders, long distance riders, off-road guys, tech heads, chopper guys, performance guys, road racers, you name it.



Then something else happened, the internet. The internet exploded with websites and a challenge to every print publication. But then social media took the wind out of the web site sales and killed reading or maybe not. That’s a major question now? Does the average guy read anymore, or does he go to Facebook to see his pal’s new dog, make a comment like, “cool,” and he’s done? The problem is a growing population and no generalization fits. There are still builders who want all the tech they can get their hands on. Ah, but what tech, bagger tech, performance tech, old school tech, restoration tech, or? Okay, you get the picture.



CYCLE SOURCE

One team has stood out over the last ten years. Chris Callen, Heather and the Cycle Source Magazine crew have studied the action, the technology, the internet, social media, podcasts and YouTube for 20 years and if anyone can or attest to the daunting challenges of an ever- changing motorcycle communications industry, Chris can. Plus, he’s the non-stop manager with the creative energy to try everything successfully. Plus, he’s a no-bullshit enthusiast. He does it all. He builds bikes, in fact the last time we spoke he was building a stretched rigid frame from the ground up. He’ll cover it on YouTube, podcasts, his website and in the magazine.

I had a strange experience at Hot Bike when they hired me to be the editorial director of their three titles. Prime media was a massive organization trying to grapple with all the costly changes technology threw at them and 44 magazine titles. My vision was similar to Chris’s but turning a multi-million-dollar cruise liner into the wind to handle the tsunami of internet waves headed directly at the bow was tough. I packed my seabag and returned to the Bikernet.com hideaway in San Pedro, where a biker could be a biker and fuck the corporate world.

Whether they like it or not publishers are directionally challenged with each issue. Where are they going and what code of the west do they abide by?

 
CLASSIC EASYRIDERS 

More recently Classic Easyriders started to publish monthly and reached into the troubled magazine newsstand distribution chains. The new publisher Ray Pelosi was involved in the return of another national magazine and wanted to bring Easyriders back. He had a deal with Joe Teresi, the owner to repropose all the issues on CD libraries but decided to step up to print. Ray hired Dave Nichols, Mike Lichter, and the magnificent New York art director Regina Marsh. Mike Lichter, master of motorcycle photography, scrambled around the country covering bikes, old builders and events with his son Sean. They produced 60-70 pages of content each issue only to part ways during the production of the recent January issue. Other business issues have surfaced but I will let Dave, who edits ER as a parttime endeavor, while maintaining a fulltime job, explain the direction for 2023.

After an exciting year back as the world’s “biker’s bible,” Easyriders magazine kickstarts 2023 with some exciting changes including more of what our readers tell us they want. Namely, more of what made the original biker rag great. We are adding biker fiction stories, gut-bustin’ humor with our Passin’ Gas page, more lifestyle-inspired art and cartoons, tantalizing tech tips, and even articles from our V-Twin Vault of past runs, rallies, parties, events and classic custom bike features.



Our editors have also started up a new quarterly publication for those of you who miss the nudity in Easyriders. We call it the Best Bikes & Babes and each 100-page issue will showcase 10 tempting naked girls astride some of the county’s coolest custom motorcycles. Now you can have it all – we’ll keep you up to date with the biker culture in our monthly Easyriders magazine, and for those who can’t get enough boobies in their life, there’s Best Bikes & Babes available four times a year.

Most magazines slipped away from nudity as their customers aged and started families. Some sorta slipped underground like Dice and GreasyKulture. They changed their sizes and became subscription only.

Dice is a medium format, but high-quality paper and print. Lots of art and youthful avant-garde flair.
Dice is a medium format, but high-quality paper and print. Lots of art and youthful avant-garde flair.



DICE MAGAZINE

If you have gear-head tendencies and want to see motorcycles being put together in the basements, garages, and woodsheds around the world ... the kind of machines that are fondled by the wild-eyed and sleepless ... then here you are.

A UK publication with coverage from California to the midwest. All the art and photos fill the pages to give photo maximum impact. Sharp and high quality.
A UK publication with coverage from California to the midwest. All the art and photos fill the pages to give photo maximum impact. Sharp and high quality.


 
History

The year is 2004, the bike scene at the time is all about fat tires, chopper TV shows, billet aluminum and theme builds. Two young punk rockers in London weren’t seeing the things they liked, so they did what they had to do. Matt Davis and Dean Micetich got friends with bikes together, shot some photos and started DicE Magazine.

Over the last 18 years they’ve exposed people the world over to motorbikes with their inclusive, fun, DIY approach that is a breath of fresh air in the often-uptight biker world.
Some nudity in ads surfaced, but more artistically based.
Some nudity in ads surfaced, but more artistically based.


 
DicE is constantly evolving and growing with one idea in mind: life is too short to be serious.

You can buy groups of early GK for not so much and check articles from back in the day...
You can buy groups of early GK for not so much and check articles from back in the day...




GREASY KULTURE

Is another sorta Readers Digest sized magazine made up most of bobber bike features, sans billet, but honoring an occasional chromed out chopped Panhead. Guy Bolton, the publisher/editor pours his life into every issue with a strict code. It’s mostly garage built bikes with no bikes shot in studios.


Greasy Kulture is a name that's been established on the custom motorcycle scene for 20 years.

GK size has grown slightly to this sharp format and it's perfect bound.
GK size has grown slightly to this sharp format and it's perfect bound.



Here are thoughts from the master, Guy Bolton: Starting as a blog (remember them?) then becoming a print magazine in 2007, Greasy Kulture then went on to start selling choice heritage brands alongside its own publications and merchandise in 2015.

The chopper magazine market has changed a lot since I started Greasy Kulture magazine 15 years ago; back in 2007 my only real competition (at least for the traditionally styled bikes we favor) was DicE magazine – also started by a couple of Englishmen. And it still is.

In that 15 years, numerous chopper titles have come and gone: some independent self-published titles (like mine) and some 'revived' classic newsstand titles from the sixties and seventies. I think the big publishers continue to struggle to find a business model that works for chopper magazines: all the classic titles have been revived with great fanfare, only to fall again by the wayside.

Why has Greasy Kulture survived when nearly every other title has failed? Because I do everything myself (layouts, writing, distribution and sometimes photography) so overheads are low. I concentrate on the bikes and the owners and their stories. Readers know by now that if they want event or lifestyle coverage, they need to go elsewhere. I also understand that it's not a huge money-maker; I accept the financial limitations of what I'm doing. I keep it small, focused, grassroots and good quality.



As for the chopper magazine market, I think the immediate future belongs still to independent publications. Newsstand titles will continue to appear – then disappear – as publishers realize there's no money in them. Online content will increase its dominance (and advertisers will continue to move out of print) and as paper, print and shipping costs continue to soar, even independent magazines may find the squeeze too much and give up. I am holding on doggedly, but even I can see that print publishing is in terminal decline.



The Japanese chopper magazines, however – Roller and Ripper, etc. – continue to offer constant inspiration. These titles' quality – paper stock, design, photography and the bikes featured – is the best in the world. I don't know how they do it.

Plans for Greasy Kulture? Just to keep going. It gets harder every issue; production and shipping costs increase almost monthly, but I can't keep putting the cover price up. I've had a long-held ambition to turn the magazine into a Rodders Journal for choppers: a quarterly, book-quality publication. With the right investment, perhaps it will happen one day.



When the magazine started, I sold half the print run wholesale to stores; but they have mostly gone bust. I now sell to a few select stores around the world, but the magazine survives mostly on online sales and subscriptions and with the support of some loyal advertisers: Biltwell and Lowbrow Customs have advertised with me since day one and the mag would not exist without them – truly solid, good guys.

Future looks tough for print, merch helps to bring in cash.

--Guy Bolton




There’s another formula used by a few publishers in different industries, which works. It’s membership publishing like the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. Their publication is steller, inspiring, historic and informative. Join the club and receive the tons of inspiring antique motocycle info in their top-notch magazine for free.



FROM THE AMCA MAGAZINE BOSS

With the majority of the motorcycle industry going digital only with their magazines, the Antique Motorcycle Club of America is committed to providing its more than 12,000 members with a printed magazine. Hey, we are the AMCA, we are old school. For most of our members, sitting in our easy-chair reading the club's bi-monthly magazine is one of the pure joys in life.

The paper shortages are currently forcing us to hold to an 84-page format for now and we are absorbing the price increases. The Antique Motorcycle is proud to be one of, if not, the best motorcycle magazines in the world dedicated to the classic, vintage and antique motorcycle market. It's not just a club magazine, we take pride in our professional photography and editorial content as a coffee table magazine.

- Keith Kizer
AMCA Executive Director
 
Here's a cover from back in the early days. Girls were banned for a longtime...
Here's a cover from back in the early days. Girls were banned for a longtime...

 
HOT BIKE MAGAZINE
 
Just recently Jordon is endeavoring to revive Hot Bike Magazine:
HOT BIKE 2023 Print Magazine Relaunch!

Help bring HOT BIKE Magazine back in 2023! Now independently owned and operated, we need your help in printing this iconic mag for YOU!

Look, it's real simple. We're bored with social media. We like magazines. We think you do too.

That said, we're asking for your help in bringing HOT BIKE Magazine back to print in 2023! HOT BIKE magazine has been an iconic part of American history and is the archetype of American V-twin performance and custom culture since 1971.

Due to the corporate bean counters who saw HOT BIKE magazine as a "line item" the magazine temporarily ceased publishing in 2019... Until now!

After acquiring the rights to this iconic brand, the new independently owned and operated HOT BIKE owners felt you fine folks were worth reading an actual magazine once again.

We're working hard to bring this iconic, 50-year-old print magazine back in 2023 but we cannot do it without your support.

We've secured the right printers using quality materials. We've hired the best photographers and writers who know their shit. We've curated the best overall humans (no algorithms to speak of) to help bring this magazine back to your doorsteps in 2023.

How Your Funds Are Spent

First thing's first. We realize $210,000 seems like a lot of dough to cough up for some magazines and swag. But we're not bringing back an iconic piece of American history to skimp on quality. You deserve the best, which is what we're aiming to deliver.

FEES: We'll immediately take 10% off the top ($21,000) to go toward Kickstarter fees (5% campaign fees, 5% processing fees).

PRINTING: Of course, printing a magazine these days is pretty costly too as paper is at an all-time premium. To print one issue, we're looking at approximately $25,000-$30,000 ($100,000-$120,000 for all 4 issues) just for the paper, ink, printing processes and postage. But every issue will feature a high-quality product with thick paper stock that we know you'll appreciate.

CONTENT: Then there are the funds needed to pay for the inside editorial content (high-quality photos and articles ain't cheap either). And of course, the art direction and design will be put together by the best and brightest who know this culture. We're budgeting about $15,000 for each issue for this (approx. $60,000).

SWAG: The last piece to the campaign puzzle are the costs to produce the cool, limited-edition gifts which ends up being about $5,000.

Please support the re-launch of HOT BIKE in 2023! Please support independent publishing! We do this for the love of our industry and the love of great storytelling. Help us bring these two passions back directly to you. We greatly appreciate your time and effort and look forward on taking you on this ride with us!

--Jordon


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/supporthotbike/hot-bike-2023-print-magazine-relaunch

They have currently raised only $78,000 and the first deadline is lingering in the near future.



THE PAPER TURMOIL LOOMS
 
There has been a profusion of paper industry news and printers and publishers alike are dealing with the impact. Mill closures continue, as do mergers, acquisitions, and mills shifting focus to produce packaging materials. Production capacity is diminishing. Raw materials (pulp, chemicals), fuel and energy, and transportation costs are experiencing double- and in some cases triple-digit increases. The effects of the pandemic and inflation are contributing factors as well.  

Supply is low, demand is high. Paper mill order books are full, with limits now being imposed on paper purchasers to prevent stockpiling. Resultingly, lead times are being extended, some now at 10 to 12 weeks out. Quick-turn paper orders are rare. 

With mill closures and reduced production comes scarcity or elimination of certain brands. Thankfully, the Grade Paper Program allows for substitutions within a grade of paper at the same quality and specifications as a brand that may no longer be available. 

Price increase announcements have been coming with increasing frequency. Coated freesheet, uncoated, newsprint, groundwood…  paper type isn’t the issue. Increases are occurring across the board, and indications point to more increases on the way for the summer. The afore mentioned contributors – pulp prices, rising energy costs, and pervasive freight issues – are significantly eroding mill margins, which in turn spurs the mills to raise prices to try to recoup their losses. The price of pulp alone, already high due to Asian pulp speculation activity, has skyrocketed over 35% just this year as a result of increased lumber demand during the pandemic, among other factors. 

Here’s a quick look at specific products and resources that are experiencing extraordinary circumstances:  

Lumber: Lumber prices are up over 400% vs. year ago! Why? It’s not about a shortage of trees. Canadian lumber tariffs and an unexpected intense spike in home remodeling and home building brought upon by the pandemic are the primary factors, as well as transportation delays. 

Crude Oil: Crude oil is up about 40% since the beginning of the year, with prices expected to hit $80 per barrel. As the economy surges back, Americans are driving and flying again and will feel the effects. Oil production hasn’t kept pace with demand and the U.S. in particular may be slower to rebuild supply due to new initiatives to reduce hydrocarbon assets and goals toward net zero emissions. 

Workforce: The national workforce shortage – deemed a “national economic emergency” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – is a direct result of the pandemic. The main drivers of the labor shortage are fears of returning to work and getting the virus, child care due to at-home schooling, elder care as nursing homes became unattractive due to COVID outbreaks, and the $300 per week in emergency federal unemployment, which has kept many who otherwise would be in entry level jobs at home. Although the extra unemployment benefits are set to expire in September 2021, at least half of the states have announced plans to cancel them ahead of schedule, to hopefully motivate more people to seek jobs. The rollout of vaccinations and the resultant drop in COVID infections have set the stage to reverse the drivers of the labor shortage, but over what period of time we do not know. 

Transportation: Trucking and shipping woes continue, with reduced freight load-to-truck ratios – particularly in the North American south and west – driving transportation costs up significantly. Availability of drivers, ports disrupted by COVID outbreaks, and the resulting disarray of container locations/availability all contribute to a less predictable delivery process. Oh – and then there was that ship that got stuck sideways in the Suez Canal! 

Hang on!

--CJKGroup.com










Now for a Note from Scandinavia

Printed magazines are getting rare. However, some survive like Scanbike now 30 years and counting.

It was started by HAMC members in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. First bimonthly but now four copies a year and digital alternative.



What is special with this cover? It is recycled ha-ha. Our Old contributor SHERIFFMEDIAGROUP had first cover in 1993 and the editor made the same choice 2023!!
 
Swedish biker Nessie and stripper from Denmark. His no nonsense chop typical early ‘90s. I remember he had holder for cigarettes and toothbrush ha-ha on his chop.
 
--Sheriff 



BIG TWIN

Started by Björn Glansk Some 15 years ago. Ex-cop murder investigator, turned to magazines for the high-end CEO CFO guys.

He then decided to start Big Twin as a Harley-Davidson only mag. In the beginning it had the HOG group feeling but now contains a mix of long Fork Swedish STYLE and bagger modifications, performance updates.

His crew work for Free or some dimes.
Price will go up in 2023 due to printing cost and shipping also headache!

Enthusiast for sure, you gotta live this lifestyle
Money That’s another World…

--Sheriff
Sheriff media empire
Sweden

Wow, so what do you glean from all this info? First, a print magazine is always king. I don’t care if it’s Vogue or an old Street Choppers. There’s nothing like being featured in a real magazine. There’s nothing like a full-spread photo of your motorcycle or your favorite builder’s latest creation. There’s nothing like seeing an historic event, like the Smoke Out covered by Michael Lichter.
I forgot Vahna, which started out with another name. It's based in Colorado and has a Western theme. Large scale and beautifully laid out, it's subscription and internet sales only. The editorial is less tech and more lifestyle. It's a slick piece, and more and more the production quality, art, photos and layout set the style.
I forgot Vahna, which started out with another name. It's based in Colorado and has a Western theme. Large scale and beautifully laid out, it's subscription and internet sales only. The editorial is less tech and more lifestyle. It's a slick piece, and more and more the production quality, art, photos and layout set the style.


 
Some 40 years ago I worked with a woman, Mrs. Fisher. She was a copy editor and mentor. She said one day, “Many publishers get addicted to ink.” She was right. There’s nothing like creating a magazine and receiving the first copies from the printer. Way beyond bean counters’ concerns, that new issue is ink and paper magic. And as editors, we love to make that magic happen and share it with the world and our subscribers.



My philosophies with Bikernet included building one magazine and adding pages to it almost every day for 27 years now. But it’s still not a magazine you can mail to a friend and he can open it to a two-page spread of your bike flying along the Bonneville Salt Flats at 200 mph carefully captured with a high-speed digital camera by Scooter Shoots. There’s just nothing like it.

Bottom line, there are magazine challenges and obstacles aplenty, but if you can do what you love, you’re proud of every page and you pay the bills, Ride On!


Chance of a lifetime. Click and join.
Chance of a lifetime. Click and join.


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Reader Comments


Great Article - thanks for the keen perspective & coverage for the last zillion years! :)
From your friends at 'liquid magazine' Open Road Radio

Gina Woods
Chicago
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Editor Response Keep it liquid baby.
--Bandit
Great! Fantastic history of the motorcycle print magazines....next thing someone will want to go all digital like Harley going all electric....Mike
Cybercycles, Heavy Duty Magazine

Mike Hess
Adelaide, SA, Australia
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
Editor Response Unlikely they will ever make the electric transition. But now they're taking American jobs by building 350cc bikes in China. Hang on.
--Bandit
It's a daunting future for print, but content is king. Keep on writing and riding. Great story Bandit, thanks.

Gary Koz Mraz
Sedona, AZ
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Editor Response Thanks brother. I will never stop and neither will you.
--Bandit

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