TMO Q1 2020 Report

Would a motorcycle blog by any other name smell as sweet?

It has been a while since I last did a quarterly report – more than a year, in fact. That’s probably not upsetting to you. The idea of giving readers a look at how a website is doing is pretty self-involved. But stick with me on this one because I’m eager to get your input.

First off, it turns out that if you slip into the dark places of your mind and don’t update your blog very much the numbers will suffer. Shocker. In the first quarter of 2020 pageviews were down dramatically from the same time period in 2019. Thank goodness I have a real job. I’m not being invited to nearly as many fancy moto launches these days, but at least there’s food in my belly.

Harley-Davidson Low Rider S – First Ride

Of course, no one’s going to launches at the moment, thanks to coronavirus. And for the same reason I’ve found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. My employer has put me on furlough, which means the government is paying them to not fire me. Nice gig if you can get it; especially because the company I work for has a moral backbone. It has committed to paying 100 percent of my salary, even though the government is only covering 80 percent. The only “wake up at 2 am and chew your fingernails” moments come when I question how long all this will last and whether my employer will need me when it’s done.

But that’s not mindfulness, is it? In the present I’m getting plenty of time to focus on TMO, which means more articles (already in April I’ve published more posts than in the whole of March), time to try different things, and time to consider making a change to TMO that’s been hanging out in the back of my mind for almost a year. That’s where you come in. I’ve been thinking about changing this site’s name and oh-so-slightly tweaking its modus operandi, and I’d like to get your opinion on the matter.

Actually, it’s not even a case of tweaking the modus operandi, rather a case of more effectively embracing it. But I’m jumping ahead; let me walk you through my thinking here.

The Motorcycle Obsession. What does that name say to you? If you knew nothing else about this blog what sort of stuff would you expect based on the name? Motorcycles, right? And conveniently, that has been the overwhelming majority of content over the 7+ years that I’ve been running this blog. Starting with my own journey of wanting to get back into riding and morphing into a site that offers bike reviews, gear reviews, stories of travel, meandering thoughts on the state of the motorcycle industry, and various other moto-related bits and bobs.

BMW F 900 R – First Ride

If you’re Alun Davies, founder of Adventure Bike Rider, you might say I’m doing it right. A few years ago I had the genuine pleasure of sitting next to Alun on a flight back to the UK from a press launch; I got to spend about three hours bending his ear and getting his take on the state of the moto industry. ABR is one of the very small number of moto magazines that’s actually making any money these days, so if you’re looking to get by in this industry it’s a good idea to listen to what Alun has to say. He attributes ABR’s success to a number of factors, including unique writing and a sense of community with readers, but also stresses the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity. Alun’s philosophy is that in a world where you’re competing for the increasingly fragmented attention of a niche audience you shouldn’t waste time in trying to be clever with the name of your publication/website.

“If you’re going to write about parrots and you want to connect with people who care about parrots and you want to pitch to advertisers who want to sell things to people who care about parrots, you name your magazine ‘Parrot Monthly,’” Alun told me. “Don’t waste time calling it ‘The Chattering Feather.’ That title is just for your ego. People who care about parrots aren’t going to have a problem buying a title with ‘parrot’ in the name, and people who don’t care about parrots aren’t going to want to read your magazine anyway.”

For Alun, the more specific you can be, the better – helping your readership and advertisers to know what they can expect. By that line of thinking, I suppose that more often than not The Motorcycle Obsession should really be called: “Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycles That I Wish I Owned And How I Feel About Them.”

But here’s the thing. Sometimes – crazy as this may sound – I want to write about something other than motorcycles. I tried this last week, when I wrote an article that’s sort of about 1990s country music star Joe Diffie, sort of about pickup trucks, and sort of about how seemingly small and disconnected things can define you. It wasn’t at all about motorcycles. Not directly, anyway. And I’d like to do more of that. Not a whole lot more – that piece took quite a bit of time to research and write, and that’s time I won’t really have when the world returns to “normal” – but some.

Thoughts on Matt Levatich’s Sudden Departure from Harley-Davidson

Way back when I decided to turn TMO into a “full-time” moto website (whatever that means) I mentioned that one of my biggest influences was Grantland – a site that was mostly about sports but sometimes not. Tellingly, that site went under after just four years because it’s tricky to earn money doing niche stuff and also some other stuff under a name that describes neither.

Anyhoo, here’s what I’ve been thinking: 

  1. I failed to turn The Motorcycle Obsession into a money-making site when I attempted to do so in 2018. 
  2. The motorcycle industry is struggling and likely to struggle more in the near future, so chasing dreams of making a living off a website that is exclusively about motorcycles is… questionable. Especially if that website is mine – one that has no interest in clickbait/viral stuff. 
  3. If I accept that this site won’t be my sole source of income that frees me of obligations to lock it into a given category.

So, I’m thinking of changing the name of the site and writing occasional articles about stuff that isn’t directly related to motorcycles. But I want to know your opinion first. Would doing such a thing upset you? Do you even care? The blog would still be primarily about motorcycles; would reading about motorcycles from a blog that doesn’t mention motorcycles in the title confuse you? I mean, I’m about 60 percent there in terms of making a decision – largely trying to decide whether I want to put in the time and effort to switch URLs (the current one would redirect to the new one for a while) – but I would genuinely be interested to hear what you think.

Meanwhile, here’s looking forward to Q2. I had an interesting phone call today; there may be some fun stuff ahead, depending on whether coronavirus will let me get out and play.