Updated on October 8th.
Motorsport Network is to sell the monthly F1 Racing magazine, whilst the weekly Autosport print magazine looks perilously on the brink.
Like Formula 1, 2019 marks Autosport’s 69th anniversary in the print industry, with the magazine hitting the shelves on a weekly basis.
Now, it looks like that this year could also be their last. Rumours about the demise of the trio have been circulating for months within the industry, but picked up a gear on Sunday (6th October).
Two Autosport staffers, one of which is their special events manager Laura Coppin, confirmed in now deleted tweets that the magazine will disappear, but that the brand will remain online via Autosport.com.
The two also confirmed that the brand will remain as part of the yearly Autosport International Show and Autosport Awards.
Motorsport Network attempted to diffuse speculation around the magazine by stating that they are “exploring options” around the print edition of Autosport and that “any news will be communicated at the appropriate time.”
Little less than 24 hours later the corporation announced on 8th October that, instead of closing the print magazine, they would be hiking the weekly price of Autosport from £3.99 to £10.99 with immediate effect.
In addition, Motorsport Network has sold F1 Racing magazine to Lifestyle Media, in a transaction expected to complete by the end of October.
As initially reported by Dieter Rencken, I understand that Russian billionaire Dmitry Mazepin (also father of F3 driver Nikita) placed an offer to buy the print magazine arm of Autosport, but that talks between the two parties have collapsed in recent weeks.
In addition, Autosport’s Editor in Chief Andrew van de Burgt is leaving the organisation this week.
The dominance of the Network
We can trace the control of Motorsport Network in relation to Autosport back to 2016 when they acquired Autosport, along with F1 Racing and Motorsport News from Haymarket.
Around the same period, Motorsport Network also acquired Motors TV. Since then, Motorsport.com and Autosport.com have become increasingly similar in content, with the same articles appearing on both domains.
Motors TV was rebranded to Motorsport.tv, with the UK television channel closed in September 2018.
Motorsport Broadcasting has heard at various times over the past twelve months about rounds of redundancies at Motorsport Network, most recently in July with their video production unit trimmed.
There is a clear strategy from Motorsport Network to eliminate their rivals, and by eliminate, I mean “take over, and then remove” their competition.
Most of what made Autosport’s output unique in recent years has disappeared, and that expands far beyond the core of the magazine into the online sphere.
To put both of those figures into context, Motor Sport Magazine (outside of the Motorsport Network circles), released monthly had a 2018 circulation figure of 29,666, and Autocar (still owned by Haymarket) had a weekly circulation of 32,253.
Given that no other motor sport-based magazines exist, it is difficult to know what is ‘good’ in this context, but nevertheless both Autosport and F1 Racing losing out to Motor Sport Magazine is not great for the Network.
However, are both the F1 Racing and Autosport magazine brands operating at a loss, or is this simply the next step in Motorsport Network’s long-term strategy to streamline its content?
You may think the answer to part one of that question is ‘yes’, but depending on who you believe the answer may be ‘no’…
If it was not already clear by this point, Motorsport Network’s position in the industry is dominant, and increasingly so.
The Network has James Allen and McLaren boss Zak Brown in prominent roles, and has links to the World Endurance Championship and Formula E, which raises all kinds of neutrality questions that this site has discussed in detail previously.
Times change, but the love and affection motor sport fans hold for brands does not. To say that it is extremely sad that potentially three brands could end to fuel the Motorsport Network strategic direction further is an understatement.
In my view, a view held by many across the industry, Motorsport Network will use the steep price rise to justify getting rid of the magazine in print format. Instead of letting the magazine die peacefully, Motorsport Network are letting the ending drag out, in a deliberate, calculated move.
If Autosport magazine in print format is no more in the medium-term, do not underestimate the ripple effect that the move will have across the industry, especially for those that use the magazine as a form of promotion.
Outpouring on social media
Since Motorsport Broadcasting posted the original Autosport article on Sunday, there has been an outpouring of emotion and thoughts from across the motor sport landscape.
The initial suggestion that the ex-Haymarket brands could be in imminent danger came from Jim Holder, Haymarket Automotive’s editorial director and Autosport’s former deputy editor on Sunday (7th October) afternoon.
“Written only as fan (of the sport, journalism and above all the people) but as everyone reflects on a brilliant Rally GB I also hope they pause on the rumoured demise of the bulk of the UK media covering motorsport – Autosport, F1 Racing and Motorsport (Motoring) News,” Holder said on his Twitter feed.
“Of course, I spent a decade working for two of the three, but the same two were also what fuelled my passion for the sport and made Wednesdays and Thursdays the best days of the week.”
“The world is online now we’re told, but to toss their heritage away is heart breaking. To toss it away by grinding the titles into the ground even more so (if rumours of imminent, off-the-scale price rises are true) and more so because of the talented, dedicated people being put in impossible positions by these jaw-dropping decisions.”
Names from across the industry have commented on the news that broke on Sunday evening, including former F1 Racing editor Matt Bishop, current Sky F1 analyst Karun Chandhok and four-time IndyCar Champion Dario Franchitti.
Officially, Autosport magazine is on a life support machine. In reality, as the earlier tweets showed, its destination has already been decided…