This is, admittedly, inside baseball stuff – an article about TMO itself – so some of you may find it excessively boring. I mean, who cares about behind-the-scenes stuff? Especially when it’s not a full-on shit show.
Sure, if TMO were like Rolling Stone in the 1970s – cocaine everywhere, prostitutes, and bar brawls – that would be pretty damn interesting. But a solitary fella sitting in the study of a suburban home, quietly tapping on a keyboard and suffering the flatulence of his greyhound, isn’t the sort of source material that makes for page-turning stuff.
Nonetheless, with manufacturers currently releasing their first quarter financial results, giving us a view of where the companies are and where they’re hoping to go, I thought it would be interesting (perhaps to no one else but me) to sit back and take stock of where The Motorcycle Obsession is right now and where it’s trying to go.
Unlike the manufacturers, though, I won’t be discussing financial information, if not simply because it’s depressing. The other day I joked with my father that I’ve set this site up a century too late: “If it were 1918, I’d be making decent money.”
Turns out that’s not even true. According to information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a union helper at a machine bakery in Cincinnati almost exactly 100 years ago (May 1918) would have been earning slightly more per week than TMO is at the moment.
Focusing on the Positive
I put the foundations for TMO in place back in February, but really I’d say the site has only been fully operational since 1 March. That means this Q1 report gives a pretty incomplete picture. Even in the everything-must-be-done-now world of the interwebs it’s common practice to expect three months of data before making solid statements about a given thing.
But with only a month and a half of data I can still claim to see solid improvement. April is not yet finished and already it has delivered 20 percent more users than in March, and seen a 32-percent increase in pageviews. I feel things would be even better if I had planned more intelligently before heading off to South Africa to ride bikes with Pirelli. The site went without update for five days as a result. Rookie error.
Speaking of Pirelli, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a lot of support in getting this venture off the ground. No one’s giving me money, but at these early stages I am incredibly thankful for the access being granted. Access means content, and content is really what I’m “selling” here.
HOW TMO STARTED: This, Too, Shall Pass
Sure, there have been a few formerly friendly companies that have suddenly stopped responding to emails since I gave up the top spot at RA, but I’ve actually been surprised by how supportive and awesome most folks have been: Can-Am, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Indian, Kawasaki, KTM, Michelin, Pirelli, Triumph, Zero. Not to mention how awesome some gear companies have been about sharing stuff for me to review: Aerostich, Bell, Dainese, Oxford, Pando Moto, Shoei.
When I look at things from that perspective I feel stupidly lucky. I’m living off ever-dwindling savings (and *cough* some additional financing from First Bank of Mom and Dad), but I’ve got a lot of goodwill, which can help me move beyond my current state.
Where We’re Going
Speaking of goodwill, I’ve had a handful of folks offer to write for TMO for free. That is super mega awesome. My ultimate goal for TMO is for it to be a place of many voices – one where my voice may not even be all that obvious. That said, I’m still an overprotective dick about what I put my name to, and as head honcho I want to always be able to point to this site and say, “I’m proud of this,” even when it’s content I haven’t produced. So, discussions are ongoing. Hopefully you’ll see an additional voice or two in the coming months.
THE GLAMOROUS LIFE I WANT TO KEEP LEADING: The European Adventures of Shuffles, Jon, and Me
I’d be a lot happier if I could pay people. That I mention the Democracy Index in every one of my gear reviews speaks to the fact I want people to earn good money for good work. I have been in journalism since I was 17 years old and I have always been underpaid, undervalued, and overworked, and I have always hated that situation to my core. I want to change it. I want to create a place where people who make awesome shit actually get paid well for doing so. Hopefully we’ll get there.
The motto of TMO is: “Ride far. Be Awesome.” I think that encapsulates the site’s primary focus of travel and lifestyle motorcycles, but I dream vaguely of a site that loosely interprets the “travel and lifestyle motorcycles” brief. Narratives and long-form pieces don’t tend to perform well from a pageview standpoint, but I still want to create a site that offers really engaging, well-written content.
In my wildest dreams, I want to create a motorcycling version of Grantland. That’s probably a bad goal to set because Grantland was a short-lived website that tanked. But, holy hell, was it good while it lasted. Ostensibly a website about sports it had some incredible writing. Take this piece about juggler Anthony Gatto. It’s quite long and, dude, it’s about a professional juggler. But it’s so well written, so engaging, that it hooked me.
Or, holy damn, this amazing novella-like piece that is sort of about sumo wrestling but also about life. That was run on a “sports” website. It could just as easily have found a home with the Paris Review.
This is the sort of atmosphere I’d ultimately like to create with TMO. I’ve shared this idea with some moto-journalists and they think I’m an idiot. Maybe I am. But then I look around and see that there are some amazing moto writers out there. Jamie Elvidge, for example. Read this piece she wrote for Cycle World four years ago. It’s fantastic. It’s sort of about riding the BMW K 1600 GT, but it’s really not at all. Really it’s about the situations we create for ourselves and the questions we ask about those situations in the quiet moments. (Jamie, by the way, is presently writing a book and I can’t wait to read it)
Grantland was run by Bill Simmons, who transformed that site’s ethos into The Ringer, a more successful site that focuses primarily on sports and pop culture. It still has a number of engaging articles, as well as the humor of writers like Shea Serrano, but it’s a little more… ah… accessible than Grantland was. So perhaps it’s a better model for TMO to follow. After all, stories about Vince McMahon’s liking Boss Hoss motorcycles are hardly high art.
So, that’s pretty much the state of things at the moment. We’re operating in terrible deficit, but incomplete Q1 numbers show growth, and we’re experiencing a surprising amount of goodwill. We’ve developed a better sense of identity and some long-term goals – one of which is to grow to the extent it no longer seems weird to be using the pronoun “we.”
I am immensely thankful to those of you who read regularly, and especially those who engage with TMO. Thank you for commenting, for liking and sharing on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Some of you are amazing; my friend Isobel clicks the “Like” button on every single thing I post to the TMO Facebook page, even though I’m pretty sure she cares about none of it.
Here’s hoping I can survive through Q2, and that I can build a site deserving of your time and support.