Reading has always been a favourite pastime of mine and for many decades it has focused on all things motoring and motorcycling – especially the world of classic two- and four-wheelers – with the odd novel thrown in now and again during end-of-year break. Although I have read many books, I set great store by monthly magazines for keeping up-to-date on happenings in the automotive world.
This means I have a voracious appetite for a variety of magazines, including several subscriptions from the UK, including British CAR, Classic Bike, Real Classic, The Classic Motorcycle, Classic Bike Guide, Nacelle (the magazine of the Triumph Motorcycle Owners’ Club) and Motor Sport. In addition, local reads include CAR, Bike SA, Automotive Refinisher, Automobil and Automotive Business Review (ABR), as well as Noseweek and, occasionally, Leisure Wheels and TopGear.
Fortunately, the UK magazines still seem to be holding up well, but here in South Africa we have seen a slew of publications closing and scores of journalists being retrenched. So sad.
The main problem has been a dramatic drop in classic print advertising which has ravaged income. In addition, local publishers have not only had to deal with Covid-19 in the past few months but even before that they suffered from having to rely on a very erratic Post Office to deliver their products. For instance, I have had virtually no post delivered to my post box for the past four months and I know there are a host of overseas magazines that should be on their way to me. This is extremely frustrating.
Several of the publishers who have not closed titles have moved to digital e-zines which do not attract anywhere near the same amount of revenue as printed magazines. This switch has therefore required cutbacks in staff and other cost reductions for the publications to remain viable and sustainable.
Here in South Africa many well-known magazines – some of them icons with long histories – are no longer on the shelves.
A further complication is that a major distributor, Republican News Agency (RNA) has been closed down too, while the Central News Agency (CNA), a major source of local and overseas magazines, is undergoing an ownership change. This means that contracts to import magazines and distribute them locally are very much up in the air, further compounding the dearth of these publications on the shelves.
Automotive magazines have been under pressure for some years now and a number have been discontinued over time. Recently these include TopCar, TopGear (although it is likely to be reintroduced), Leisure Wheels (now becoming digital only) and a number of travel-related publications such as Weg!/Go!, Wegry/Wegsleep, Drive & Camp which will have editorial content outsourced and frequency cut. Media24, for example has shed 660 people with its restructuring.
The local truck magazine market has also been decimated over the years and now Trucks & Heavy Equipment is the only remaining print publication. SA Transport is long gone, while Focus on Transport and Logistics has recently become digital-only. Truck and Bus magazine closed down in September last year, only a few months before what would have been the 40th anniversary from its founding in February 1980. The founder, Justin Haler, died in January 2011 and his wife, Cindy, kept the publication going until last year when its last issue was published, and its website closed.
Another casualty at the same time was the print version of Classic Car Africa, edited exceptionally well by Stuart Grant, and a publication very close to my heart as I was an enthusiastic contributor. It continues on the www.classiccarafrica.com website.
I have been privileged recently to have been loaned by Ian Groat, publisher of Automotive Refinisher, some excellent examples of what weekly car magazines were like almost 100 years ago.
I have been paging through three examples of The Motor, published in the UK in 1927. Two of them are show issues of more than 300 pages that are about 15 mm thick and weigh 800 gm! The price was sixpence (6d) a copy! Unbelievably, only 18 car manufacturers out of the 172 brands listed under New Cars, Used Cars and Specifications are still in production. They are: Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Peugeot, Citroen, MG, Renault, Rolls-Royce, Vauxhall, Mercedes, Ford, Lincoln and Lagonda are still in production!
Ian also loaned me a copy of The Motor Cycle, dated November 30, 1916, which means it was published during World War I. It cost one penny (1d) and once again it had a vast number of makers’ names that have long since passed into history. The same goes for the many advertisers for tyres and lubricants.
What impressed me was the fact that all these magazines were produced using the old-fashioned hot lead system. When I started my career as a journalist at the Pretoria News in 1962 this was the complicated manner in which that newspaper was printed. Times have certainly changed and nowadays one can even produce books digitally at home.
By Roger Houghton