The particular row we are attempting to hoe here at The Cycling Independent is long, rocky and challenging. In essence, we are attempting to stand up, from scratch, a cycling website that appeals to the broadest possible swath of Earth’s bike riding population. We want to do that based primarily on the revenue generated from subscriptions that are entirely voluntary. We have no investors. We developed the site with our own money, our own experience, and by learning a lot of stuff we didn’t know before.
It’s a fool’s errand probably, but what else should fools do with their time?
It became clear after the first year that subscription revenue alone wasn’t going to allow us to publish the amount or variety of content we wanted to, and we found ourselves in two Catch-22s. The first was, without more work from more different writers, we didn’t believe we could grow our reader and subscriber bases, but we didn’t have the money to pay more writers. That begat the second Catch-22, which was that we wanted to remain independent, but bringing in paid sponsorship was the only way to fund the content growth we knew we needed.
That left us a tightrope to walk, so we started walking.
We made a lot of calls and sent a lot of emails to companies we liked and respected and even considered friends, and most made positive noises about the project. They saw the vision and believed the industry needed an independent voice to counterbalance all the outlets who depend for their living on the very companies whose gear they set out to cover and review. It’s not that other media is corrupt. It’s that the paradigm is transparently suspect. We were trying to show a different way to do this thing.
One company stepped forward last year to help us realize more of our vision, and that was Shimano North America. They demanded no coverage. They expressed no opinions about our work. They put no conditions on us at all. In fact, they left us entirely to our own discretion about how to represent them on the site and on our podcasts.
Shimano is arguably the most important player in the entire bike industry. They have muscles to flex, and yet, when we spoke with them, they saw the value of the TCI project and pitched in without asking for anything specific in return. We used their investment to double the amount of content we were producing and quadruple the number of contributors.
We are not obligated to write these things, and in fact, our initial sponsorship agreement with them expired at the end of the year. Honesty and transparency are important to us though, and those are values we try to project in our daily content and also back to the people who support what we do. In this case, we owe Shimano a debt of gratitude for helping us realize our vision for 2022.
We don’t know what 2023 holds. We have more ideas than we have time (or money) for. New sponsors will come in, and we will do our best to recruit new writers and podcasters. The growth will be organic, and anyone we work with will need to accept that we do what we do how we do it. Hopefully, the example Shimano set will encourage others to support independent cycling media. It can work, if you subscribe, and a few good partners help us along the way.