I’ll admit as the head of my own company that I’ve made a more than a few “decisions of passion” that have resulted in unnecessary grief, rather than taking a calm, calculated approach. While doggedly pursuing a passion project has ruined many an entrepreneur, company and even Hollywood director, when such an endeavor is executed to its designer’s full intent we get Disneyland, the Tesla Model S P85D, and Star Wars.
Lately, I’ve been dedicating quite a bit of my time on prioritizing where The Watercraft Journal focuses its efforts (ie. budget) for the upcoming year. In doing so, I’ve been pouring over hundreds of pages of analytic reports; Which stories were our most popular? Which stories “blew up” and then quickly “fizzled out” when others’ popularity lasted several weeks or even months? Which stories completely tanked? And, where were we spending the most money in correlation to the story’s popularity?
Then came the awkward moment when I realized that our racing coverage was nowhere within that sphere. Not a single race story was within our all time Top 50 articles at all. Like, even in spite of being the single-most popular PWC magazine in North America, welcoming over 280,000 unique readers who’ve digested over 776,000 articles since our launch in 2013. Regardless of our massive (and continually growing) readership, racing coverage fell below everything else.
This made me reevaluate the quality of content we produce. Domestically, we lead the industry in comprehensive, quality race coverage that is both originally-written and produced. I’m proud of our racing coverage. I’m proud of the contributors who keep us on top. Their talents are only matched by their professionalism. But race coverage is by far our largest expense. And according to our numbers, it doesn’t move the needle.
One day, in a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in Anaheim, California, Hydro-Turf’s Arno Olbricht chided me, “I couldn’t even open your 2014 World Finals coverage. It took forever to load. What did you have, like 300 pictures?” As I sat across from him digging into a pair of fish tacos, I laughed, “It was actually over 500.”
“Yeah,” he poked back. “I gave up after a minute.” Then Arno looked at me pointedly and asked, “Who’s even reading it? Racers just looking for pictures of themselves to share on Facebook?” He had a point. Race coverage never fetched more than a few thousand views, and most of those were repeat readers.
During the first year of The Watercraft Journal, I spent several nights staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning hurriedly editing hundreds of pictures, hammering out the last few sentences, formatting results, and polishing freelancer’s syntax and grammar, just to get that precious claim of “first to press” with coverage. I pushed my contributors and photographers to the brink of quitting, I drained our budget, and all for what? A few hundreds clicks.
This year I experimented by pulling back. No more early-morning thrash sessions. No more harassing midnight texts to photographers. I also dropped the picture and word count. No more 2,500 Tolstoy-esque recounting of the minutest details. This year we went full “Joe Friday,” just the facts, ma’am. And you know what? Yeah, we’ve come in second once or twice, but you couldn’t tell by our readership. The numbers (although steadily growing) didn’t really change. Nobody really seems to care just as long as the pictures are pretty, and our photographers are some of the best.
My inner-entrepreneur is constantly screaming “Do you want to be successful? Follow the money. Look at Dustin Farthing. He isn’t racing. He’s selling 180-horsepower WaveRunners to moms and dads.” And that nagging voice would be right. Sure, young, hip millennials look cool and fill up Instagram with sweet Vine videos, but who’s writing the checks? Again, follow the money.
So again, why bother? Why will The Watercraft Journal keep blowing thousands of dollars year after year on race coverage that just a fraction of our readership even cares about? Because I still think it matters (as I’m sure many of you do too). Racing is the bleeding edge of the sport. Only a brave few can balance on that thin line, and its these select few who help push this sport forward. Racing doesn’t carry jet skiing, that much has changed. But it does sharpen it.
Maybe that’s a bad business decision on my end. Frankly, I don’t really care.
Go get wet,