Growing Pains

 

The first Tour de France, held in 1903, was considered an absolute success. It changed the fortunes of the newspaper that sponsored the event, l’Auto, and united France in following what was arguably the greatest sporting spectacle of the age. The following years didn’t go as smoothly. While there was a huge readership for the paper, cheating became such a problem that the Tour’s founder, Henri Desgrange, nearly abandoned the event.

But instead of giving up, Desgrange got the officiating—and cheating—under control. But that didn’t mean that running the world’s greatest annual sporting event became simple. Desgrange monkeyed with national teams vs. trade teams as well as how best to drive revenue—selling newspapers was great, but not enough.

Desgrange’s successor, Félix Lévitan, tied sponsorships to every facet of the race. Rather than go with a few sponsorships for big bucks, Lévitan sold tons of sponsorships for tiny amounts of money. The meager sponsorship dollars necessitated ever more sponsors.

Today, the Amaury Sport Organization, the owner of the Tour, faces a new pain of growth. There’s a growing chorus of voices calling for ASO to share revenue from the TV rights it sells. It’s a reasonable request as without the riders, there would be no Tour to sell. Should not the stars of the show make some cash off their performances?

No matter what happens, the Tour rocks.

I offer that prelude as a prologue to something of an admission. RKP has been experiencing some growing pains. I don’t mean to suggest that RKP is in any way comparable to the Tour de France (that’d be like suggesting there was a significant similarity between a firecracker and a nuclear bomb). the Tour is, for me, something of a north star, a demonstration that an entity can evolve and change without losing its central essence or its core mission.

In the last year I’ve added a host of new contributors, at least one of whom—John Wilcockson—is significantly more experienced than I. There are a few new items in the store, though we still don’t have a full complement of kit. And then there’s travel and communication; I’ve been on the road a good deal more than in previous years and I’ve lagged on email responses to readers, including the gentleman who took the time to outline his frustration with how Live Update Guy is viewed and contrasted it with the superior way Cyclingnews offers its live updates. That anyone would even compare us with Cyclingnews is staggering. They’ve got more full-time employees than we do part-time contributors. They aren’t so much Goliath to our David as they are Goliath to our squirrel.

Where were we? Ah, yes. Growing pains. If I’m honest, we’re experiencing some bumpiness in our editorial. The issue isn’t one of quality, but one of regulation. I’m not a great planner and product review runs on a schedule that is utterly irregular. We need to smooth that out, but more important it needs to be broader. Some companies—notably Specialized—have really embraced us, while I’ve done an abysmal job of cultivating a relationship with Trek, though it’s not for lack of trying. My concern is that uneven coverage comes off as favoritism, instead reflecting the truer nature of the access we’re afforded. The issue here, as I see it, is the challenge of being both a start-up and independent.

The other area we’ve failed to achieve anything like our potential is with Live Update Guy. Charles brought that to RKP this spring with the understanding that we would sell the advertising for it (I even brought on industry veteran Nick Ramey to handle those sales) and all Charles would have to do is type and get paid.

He has typed a lot. He hasn’t been paid a thing.

As it turns out, trying to sell advertising for a new venture in April or May isn’t just foolhardy, its ridiculous. Things may turn around in July, but we have our work cut out for us.

If you’ve been following the Giro thanks to Charles’ coverage, I hope you’ll do him a solid and drop by his site and jingle his tip jar.

When I started RKP, I had a single, guiding principle. I wanted to post great writing characterized by solid analysis and possessing real insight. I never dreamt that we’d be publishing the work of Charles Pelkey and John Wilcockson, but then I never dreamt Wall Street would experience a catastrophic meltdown and middle America would be blamed for it. Seeing Pelkey and Wilcockson’s work alongside mine and our other contributors’ is a good deal happier ending.

Thanks for reading.

15 comments

  1. nrs5000

    Keep up the good work Padraig — thanks for being upfront and kudos for having the ambition to bite off a bit more than you can chew.

  2. Sachi

    Charles is the best. Charles and PO’G together are even better! I hope you can work out all the growing pains – you have a lot of potential support out here from your readers.

  3. andrew

    This is a great website. Thanks for all of your hard work on it. I wear my RKP jersey proudly and always get good comments on it.

  4. gmknobl

    Keep it up. We’ll drop by tips as we can and hopefully regulation will get things back in order and the 1%’s moolah spread to the 99% like it used to be back when I was a wee little thing but I’m not holding my breath.

    I enjoy reading the articles though they seem to be fewer recently. The article on clothing was great and much needed.

    On the web, it’s about eyeballs so I’ll keep my “hits” coming and hopefully that will help you too. There are only four cycling places I go anyway since I refuse to go Velo anymore: Bicyclegroup, Cyclingnews, here and PezCyclingNews. Keep up the good work.

  5. Bart

    I love Charles Pelkey’s Live Update Guy coverage of the races! The best part is the banter between Charles, POG, and the readers. One reader described it as like being on vacation with a huge family. I find the Cycling News live updates to be dry and boring as there is no reader involvement. Please keep that as part of LUG if possible.

    You inclusion of LUG is how I found out about RKP which is now part of my required reading.

    Thanks for making all of this happen!

  6. fausto

    I stay for the quality, not the quantity. Bigger is not always better. To your point, this is a very small indi, DIY thing, that is ok. If I run across you in other forms/mediums, that’s cool too. You decide where you want this to go, if you can make big check at the same time, good on ya. One more cliche to add, stay golden Pony Boy.

  7. Bo L

    I appreciate your candid and honest communication. It makes me feel like more than an anonymous stranger when I am here.

    What measurable/tangible factor can common readers contribute to to increase your marketability to potential sponsors? LUG has worldwide web exposure (not so much in Antarctica this year, but you can’t win them all…) and deserves to have a sponsor for his incredible coverage. I, for one, would like to see it continue.

  8. randomactsofcycling

    I’m with the rest of the grupetto here Padraig. Keep it up, we like what you do.
    I’ve been reading RKP since it’s inception and I have to admit to being a little overwhelmed by the explosion of material in the last 6 months or so. But it’s good stuff.

    So take a deep breath and remember your own mantra – ‘to suffer is to learn’!

  9. Eto

    Reading RKP is a real break in my typically busy day. Visiting the site helps balance some me time with everything else required. Please keep your writing up. I also enjoy Robot’s posing thoughts, questions and observations.
    Thanks, Eto

  10. Ryan Hedemark

    This is simply the finest cycling blog that I’ve ever read. So much so that I am sad when I punch up RKP & see no new posts. I think all of your contributors are excellent writers (even the Robot, ha-ha.) I thoroughly enjoy all of the content, from the insightful product reviews, to Mr Pelkey’s legal column, &, sometimes the Robot’s arcane musings most of all. I think the perspective of former wrenches on the workability of components & the like is unique & fantastic. I appreciate the genuine passion that all who contribute obviously share for cycling. I read other blogs. I know & live by most of The Rules of the Velominati. But I come here, continually & with more frequency than anywhere else because this is, unequivocally, the best cycling blog around.
    PS Padraig: I enjoy Peloton immensely & agree that it is a cycling mag without peer. I am about to show my support with a subscription as it is difficult to find in stores. I will also be ordering, at the least, a ‘Suffer’ t-shirt from this site because it is an awesome shirt & I wish to make even a small contribution to what you guys are doing here. Keep up the outstanding work & know, always, that your work is cherished by this reader!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments and compliments. I guess I should share one other tidbit with you all (if that’s what we should call it) and that’s my larger ambition. My best-case scenario for my future is one where every one of RKP’s contributors is paid appropriately professional rates. That is likely to mean different things at different times—as readership grows (and boy has it grown) we are entitled to charge more for our advertising. I want all of RKP’s contributors to be well-paid for their work. I want RKP to be the place where they publish their very best work, even if it means we don’t hear from someone on a weekly basis. And I want them to know they are valued and their place is secure in their association with us. I also want a managing editor to help do air traffic control to keep a constant stream of material so that when you all drop by there’s almost never an occasion when you can’t find something fresh. I do only one thing well: write. If I can limit my job to writing for RKP, peloton, and a book here or there, I may have heaven on earth and you lot may have a lot of fun as readers. We’ll see.

      Most of all, thanks for your support.

  11. Michael

    I think anyone that has viewed RKP for more than a minute realizes that, not only are you doing the most you can right now, but that you are genuinely concerned about and concentrated on the future of content for the site.

    That in and of itself says a lot. I would rather read (and support) a site with passionate, if spotty, coverage than one where things are mailed in, so to speak. I happen to think that RKP is really on the cusp of something huge; can’t put my finger on it, but you guys continue to do something different that is eminently enjoyable.

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