TCI Friday

I don’t concern myself, overly much, with what other people are doing. I guess I pay attention to my friends, and I follow the antics of a few of cycling’s more interesting personalities. But mostly I ride my rides, and talk a bit about it, and I don’t worry a lot.

Someone once said to me, “You just keep your head down, and keep that broom moving, and we’ll get along just fine,” and I said, “Ok, Dad.” So that’s the approach I take. I ride. I write. I rinse. I repeat.

But there’s big news on the wordy side of the bike biz this week. Pocket Outdoor Media bought more outlets, Cycling Tips and Pinkbike, to add to their already exhaustive roster of outdoor lifestyle brands. I wonder a little what it means. I mean, obviously, the more media you control, the easier it is to sell advertising, so it’s probably smart. Sell more, make more.


As I said, the only ‘more’ I concern myself with is more writing, and ideally, more riding. The rest, I hope, will take care of itself, although TCI starts to feel like a canoe we’re paddling in the wake of a destroyer.

Pyrrhus of Epirus

When Padraig and I left Red Kite Prayer behind, joining up with Cush to start this site, it felt like opting out of a game we never wanted to play, the relentless need to sell ads to support our work. And then of course, when you have any success at selling ads, your readers begin to wonder whether the ads are influencing the “expertise” on offer. It’s like chasing your tail, doing what you need to do to make your work pay, and then feeling like you’re eroding your credibility when you get good at it.

So we stopped, or rather we started over.

The idea to be reader-supported isn’t a new one. NPR has done it forever, but they end up spending weeks every year begging for money. We’ve tried to keep the begging to a minimum, probably to our own detriment. In light of what’s going on in our little corner of the industry, I wonder if we’ve made the right choice, if we’ve gauged what readers want correctly.

I don’t much mind how we finance our work, because I like to keep my head down and just keep working. Each of us at TCI has made big financial sacrifices to bring you our love though. So I’m going to ask…

Does TCI being ad free matter to you? Is this the thing we should be doing? Or are we only satisfying ourselves with this moral high ground nonsense, this quixotic dedication to independence? You, the people reading these words, are sorta the judge and jury on our work. We’ve set out to make a case that this way is better than going big, big, big, but I’d love to know what you think. All opinions welcome.

Join the conversation
  1. tcfrog says

    Ad-free makes no difference to me. Even back to RKP, I never minded the ads. I get it, you have to keep the lights on somehow and I don’t begrudge sites from using advertising to accomplish that. What helps me believe your reviews aren’t skewed by advertising dollars is the fact that you guys are willing to answer questions about your reviews and compare feelings to what you have ridden and reviewed before.

  2. Jeff vdD says

    Ad-free matters. There are plenty of ad-supported media that work well for me, and I can only afford so much subscription in my life, but for my life-consuming cycling passion, I value ad-free more than I do for almost any other subject.

  3. scottg says

    Bicycle Quarterly takes adverts, so you can too.
    Just don’t print the classic “this bike is 17.3% stiffer than last year
    bike and has bold new graphics.” If your stuff starts sounding like a Bike Snobs spoof,
    time to find honest work.

  4. jlaudolff says

    Interesting, well-written essays are what matter most and keep me coming back. I don’t mind ads of they are tastefully done and don’t intrude on the formatting of the content. I’ve always been curious about your paying subscriber level. I would hope you are reaching a sustainable level by now.

  5. alanm9 says

    Ads don’t matter, until they do, right? But how is the reader to know? That’s when trust goes south.

    From your essay it seems like the sub model isn’t working (well). Accepting some ads while scrupulously avoiding ANY product endorsements may be an acceptable compromise, but I’m no expert. If it helps, I have 3 bike subs, this is one.

  6. bart says

    I’m neutral on ads. I like what you all are doing and I’m a supporter (for some reason my monthly recurring contribution seems to have stopped – working to get that fixed now). I think what comes through is your authentic voice. If you can keep that going with or without ads, that is what keeps me coming back. I’ve bought a number of items based on Patrick’s reviews both from here and on RKP (no idea if they were ‘paid’ reviews or not) and find that his recommendations work out well for me. I enjoy the mix of podcasts and writing here. But what I like the most is you all getting to be yourselves and sharing a little slice of that with me. I hope you’re able to figure out the $ side fo things so you can keep going.

  7. khal spencer says

    Ads don’t matter until its all ads and its hard to find the actual content. Buy-Cycling is a good example of that and as someone else said; all we find out is that the Gravel Marauder 9 “…is 17% stiffer and way lighter than the Gravel Marauder 8, making me feel like my bicycle OD’d on Bicycle Viagra …oh, you want actual technical specs? Who T F cares, we get paid by the paragraph of gratuitous hyperbole!”

    I send my monthly tithe to the CI for some good reading, not to see ads. At my stage of life, the last thing I need is more shit in the garage. But others may be in a different stage. Some advertisements are fine to keep kibble in the dog dish (stealing a line from Patrick O’Grady) but where to draw that line is up to you guys. What do you have to do to survive, pay the bills, feed the kids, and put beer in the fridge?

    We do give to all the public radio and public TV outlets in these parts and it sort of annoys me when we hear “advertisements” on Public Radio for Vulture Capitalists, LLC, saying those are not real ads. But if I see ads and don’t see some nonsensical stuff about the greatest product since sliced bread from that company, that’s OK. Its a real world out there, not an ideal one.

    Bottom line? You gotta keep the lights on.

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