PART TWO: STOP THE PRESSES!
By Ray Paulick
(Second of a two-part series; click here for part one)
In response to falling advertising revenue over the last two years, both the Thoroughbred Times and Blood-Horse magazine have made significant cuts in their staffing and editorial coverage of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. Both publishing companies have put greater emphasis on their digital and online products, and they’ve tried to reposition their magazine content to de-emphasize news and focus more on analysis and timeless features.
Staples like auction results are gone from the print edition of The Blood-Horse, and Thoroughbred Times has cut back in several areas of statistical coverage.
Mark Simon, founding editor of Thoroughbred Times, readily acknowledges the reduction in content of the print weekly. “It is always a juggling act,” he told the Paulick Report, “and we believe that by eliminating some features it strengthens the overall publication because we have been forced to present our best editorial and best-read and most important features. I’m sure some will call that a glass half-full response to the steps we have had to take in the present climate, but in actuality it works. The question is how much time do people have each week to spend reading, and we can help that process by culling the material for our readers. And, yes, more people get daily news off the Internet, and we provide a daily newsletter in Thoroughbred Times Today that provides all the daily news, race results, sires of winners, etc., which works to our advantage by enabling us to concentrate on features, news analysis, and bigger-picture themes in the weekly.
“By presenting daily news in Thoroughbred Times Today and on our website, we have been able to eliminate pages in the weekly that became more or less redundant,” Simon added. “For example, we used to publish lists of of all sires of winners of allowance races, stakes races, overnight handicaps, etc., and all sires of juvenile winners, but we have eliminated that feature in the weekly because Today reports all sires of winners. That alone saves us 100 pages a year in the weekly. And the same can be said for sire lists. We update our online sire lists daily, and where we once published three or four pages of sire lists a week in Thoroughbred Times, we often publish one or none now.”
Among the features Thoroughbred Times publishes have been recent profiles of “40 under 40,” a look at future industry leaders, and “25 most influential women.” Both features generated a good deal of buzz throughout the industry, and attracted more than a few congratulatory ads in support of the individuals named.
Eric Mitchell, editorial director for Bloodhorse Publications, declined to comment on changes made at the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association-owned magazine.
However, like Thoroughbred Times, Blood-Horse magazine has shifted its weekly focus from news and stakes results and toward personality profiles and “trend features” like the recent four-part series on pari-mutuel handle and its associated complexities due to advance-deposit wagering, off-shore rebate shops, and inconsistent methodology in collecting and reporting on the data.
In print, Blood-Horse has cut its news and racing coverage. The stakes reports in the back of the magazine have been trimmed so that only Graded stakes now get background stories on the winning connections or pedigrees.
But will the cutbacks and repositioning be enough to save the two weekly magazines during a steep industry recession and at a time when two racing television channels and an explosion of online information bring news to people as it happens?
“The Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times have got to stop printing,” said Jim Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune in the 1980s and now the owner of Two Bucks Farm in Versailles, Ky., which bred Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. “What they are doing daily is an effort to make the transition. I’ve been reading both of them for more than 20 years, and the only thing you notice is that they get thinner and thinner, with less stuff and smaller staff.
“If they told me tomorrow I’m no longer going to get a Blood-Horse or Thoroughbred Times magazine but every day I’d get five times as much on the computer, it wouldn’t bother me at all. They have an important database. If they took the money they spend on printing and mailing and hired some reporters and give you great stuff, I don’t think anyone would care. ”
Squires cited the electronically delivered Thoroughbred Daily News as an example of a publication that doesn’t get hit with printing and mailing expenses. “TDN devotes all their resources to gathering information,” he said. “When there’s a sale or a big race, their content is dramatically better because they have more resources dedicated to it. I like those beautiful color pictures (in Thoroughbred Times and Blood-Horse), but that color looks pretty good on a nice computer screen or a Kindle. I love print. My whole life has been in print, and I read those magazines, but if I ran the Blood-Horse of Thoroughbred Times, I’d try to get my audience to the Kindle or iPad.”
Tim Capps, former editor of the Thoroughbred Record, Maryland Horse and Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, agrees with Squires. “If I was running them, I would go substantially or entirely electronic,” he said of the two weekly magazines.
Capps, now executive in residence at the University of Louisville’s Equine Studies Program in the College of Business, ran the Thoroughbred Record when former owner Peter Brant transformed it from a weekly to a monthly magazine in 1986, a year after the Thoroughbred Times was launched to become the third weekly in the market. Two years later, the Record was folded after a merger with the Times. “The business just wasn’t going to be there as a monthly magazine,” said Capps.
Nevertheless, Capps wonders if either the Blood-Horse or Thoroughbred Times could make a go of it in print as a bi-weekly or monthly magazine to complement their online products. “The question is, ‘What is viable in print? Can you make a monthly magazine work with readable and interesting features?’”
Giles Anderson publishes Trainer Magazine, a quarterly glossy with editions in Europe and North America. He thinks he’s found a successful niche with those titles. “Our principle is simple,” said Anderson. “We treat it like going to your favorite restaurant; go every week you’ll soon get bored, but go once a quarter and you’re looking forward to the next trip in no time.
“As publishers we need to find new ways to entertain and engage our readers,” Anderson continued. “Very soon I am launching Trainer Magazine as an iPhone/iPad app. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve for advertisers and the way we can go further than just showing their advert. Yes, these are exciting times to be in the print business but you can’t engage with your readers if they already know what they are reading.”
Jon Siegel, marketing director of PM Advertising in Versailles, Ky., said he doesn’t feel as though news magazines have really changed that much. “That is part of the problem,” Siegel said. “A lot of print magazines have created websites and e-alerts that give the information people are looking for quickly. Then they take that same information and put it in a weekly or monthly format. By that time the information is outdated and not informative.”
Yet Siegel believes that “you will always have print in some form or fashion. I believe that if done correctly it is a valuable tool.” However, he said, “Our advertisers are embracing the move to the web in a big way. You can say a lot more in a website or in a web advertisement than you can in a print ad. We believe the web is just one piece of the overall plan for marketing.”
Arnold Kirkpatrick, whose family owned the Thoroughbred Record in the 1970s, believes the Thoroughbred Times and Blood-Horse are the industry’s “best shots to educate people about the horse business and getting them into it. Tracks give you little or no help on fan or owner education,” he said. “Maybe the magazines can help with TOBA seminars, and try to do fan seminars as well.”
During Kirkpatrick’s ownership of the Thoroughbred Record, he said the magazine always played second fiddle to the Blood-Horse in advertising revenue, and cut a deal with the Jockey Club to offer a subscription to the Record to anyone who registered a foal. “We sold 52% to the Jockey Club and had an agreement—a gentleman’s agreement,” said Kirkpatrick, who also tried to negotiate a deal to merge the Thoroughbred Record and Blood-Horse. “There were some Jockey Club members on the TOBA board who liked having their own house organ,” he said. “So that fell through, as did the promise that the Record would be sent to all breeders who registered a foal. We bought our 52% interest back.”
Kirkpatrick said at the time the overlap in readership of the Record and Blood-Horse was only about 25%. “There were loyalties to both publications,” he said. “We were shocked at how little overlap there was.” But Kirkpatrick believed then and now that a merger was in the best interests of the weekly magazines.
“The long and short of it is that two publications are too many,” he said.
Squires said he looked into buying the Thoroughbred Times in the early 1990s when the late Richard Broadbent and Peter Brant were co-owners. It ended up being sold to Brant and later to Norman Ridker, whose Bowtie Inc., remains the owner. “The first thing we were going to try to do was merge with The Blood-Horse,” said Squires. “I don’t think there is room for both of them. There just isn’t a big enough audience.”
“The better question, and this is no knock on anything they’re doing,” said Tim Capps, “is whether there is room for one.”