Cyclingtips commercial ties

There have been accusations in the CT comments over the last couple of weeks about the influence that commercial interests may be having on CT content.

The accusations are that CT is owned by Outside magazine, that Outside group are partially owned by specialized, amongst other interests, and that these interests influence content; such as the recent specialized tech reviews and Lance Armstrong article.

The LA connection seems verging on the cospiracy theory end of the spectrum to me but has CT editorial team any comment to make and can they categorically state independence from influence by their owners?

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How many “accusations” over the past few weeks TILTed you onto this mystery?

AT this point I’m intrigued…

I mean wow Quixote. You’ve uncovered a veritable WINDMILL farm of deceit and trickery with this one, bravo!

Specialized, Outside, Lance Armstrong oh my!

It’ll be fun to see where this goes.

I am just asking as to the degree of editorial independence that they enjoy.

I wasn’t aware of the Outside group/specialized connection and I wonder at the truth of the accusations and whether there is a degree of influence over the editors.

Is this an inappropriate question do you think?

I have asked it in good faith, I don’t really care either way but it would be good to provide open discosure.

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The question is then : what answer do you expect from the team ?

If they say “we have total freedom on our content”, will you be satisfied or say that they’re lying ?
If they say “Lance is reviewing every article before publication”, will you be satisfied or say that they’re sold to the devil ?
Is there any in-between situation that will satisfy you ?

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Is the question so immediately and obviously ridiculous that we start immediately trashing it and the questioner? Mr Quixote comments in this community thoughtfully and politely. He’s asked what seems to be a reasonable question of CT, and they would seem to be reasonable enough people to treat the question respectfully.

If CT answers and it seems like a bunch of BS we can all roll our eyes and comment smugly then, but I’m interested enough to wait and see.

I’m paying for my veloclub membership and I’m likely to believe everything remains independent, the way it’s always seemed to be. I’m still keen to hear any answers, though.

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Second this. Well said.

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Jules, it was a fair and polite question from Wily and, as a VC member since the very beginning, one I have a direct interest in.

I have to say, I would like you to rethink the tenor of your comments (not just on this article - you also made some of those very tiresome anti “dentist” comments on a article about Colnago last week). We are trying really hard here not to devolve into the quagmire of the CN comments section, so let’s all keep it civilised and respectful. Thank you.

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The question is then : what answer do you expect from the team ?

I don’t know, that is why I asked the question. Do you think that it was a ‘dorothy dixer’?

If they say “we have total freedom on our content”, will you be satisfied or say that they’re lying ?

You know a qualification is important, I think. Such as: "we demonstrate our editorial independence by doing x, y and z ". Perhaps they could have some of their practices independently reviewed/audited by someone from the CT veloclub, who pay for independent content.

If they say “Lance is reviewing every article before publication”, will you be satisfied or say that they’re sold to the devil ?

I’d be surprised that they would abrogate their independence to such a degree. perhaps you were being hyperbolic?

Is there any in-between situation that will satisfy you ?

Absolutely not. I am a man of extremes. I expect the team to resign en masse or publish their bank accounts online. Nothing else would be satisfactory. /s

Edit: typos and grammar

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Wade addressed this in the VC Slack channel. TLDR: unless an article is specifically labeled as such, articles are not influenced by outside parties.

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@Wily_Quixote, it’s a fair and expected comment, so thanks for asking. I addressed this early on after the Outside acquisition to our VeloClub members. I’m happy to put it here as well.

The past two and a half years working alongside the PinkBike business have been some of the best for our business, our employees, and also for me personally. I enjoyed the freedom we had, the growth we saw, the challenges we overcame, and seeing our employees do some of their best work ever.

Personally I was excited by the Outside acquisition and the things we can do with their investment and belief in us. But from the hundreds of emails and messages I’ve received it seems that not everyone is so positive about this. That can be expected, but what makes me despair are some the emails I’ve received from our own members and some of the chat in our Slack group.

I wish I could answer each and every one of those messages, however I felt it would be best to aggregate the common questions and interesting ones I hadn’t thought of before into one email that would reach you all.

So, here goes:

Are we migrating to the Outside+ membership?

We haven’t spoken about this yet but what I can envision happening, and what I’ll be advocating for, is a simple VeloClub membership option (the way it currently stands), and then if people see value in the Outside+ membership they can upgrade and get both.

Will VeloNews and CyclingTips be consolidated into one?

Outside is acutely aware that people buy in to brands, not raw content, so this gives me confidence that we won’t be making any rash changes. Note that publishers own competing titles all the time.

Will there be a paywall?

I don’t believe in the exclusive content model, such as what VeloNews is doing. We experimented with this and all it does is piss people off. It also doesn’t achieve the business outcomes we want.

That said, if we ever went down this road I do see merit in a metered paywall approach. That is, like the New York Times uses: visit the site x number of times for free, and after that you need to subscribe. Yes, there are lots of ways around this, but that’s actually the point. It’s an elegant solution that I won’t go into detail on here.

Giving away content for free is a relatively new phenomenon that needs to change. Because it’s free to consume on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free to create, and every single one of you as a VeloClub member recognises this and supports this notion.

I’m not saying we’ll create a paywall anytime soon. Regardless, our content will always be included in our membership.

Does Lance Armstrong now own CT?

I don’t see it like this. Lance is a partner in a fund called Next Ventures which invested in Outside early on. You can see the publicly available information on Outside’s investors here. I have no idea if Lance invested any of his own money into this fund, but Lance isn’t going to be influential in our editorial direction.

It’s ironic that Lance has worked his way back into cycling, but judging by the millions of people who listen to his podcast he has far more influence over there than he does here.

UPDATE: Lance Armstrong does not own any shares personally only Next Ventures does, and only a very small percentage.

One member said: "I’m just struggling with the fact that now a tiny fraction of the ad revenue I generate when clicking on stuff at CT will end up in his pockets. Wondering how you guys are feeling about it.”

It doesn’t really work like this. We don’t receive ad revenue by people clicking on banners, and even if this were the case it wouldn’t be funnelled to Lance. Again, I don’t know if Lance actually has any of his own money invested, but what I do know is that he is a managing partner in a fund. Like any fund, he will see a commission when there is a liquidity event (public listing, private sale, etc.) Or he could lose all of his investors’ money. Lance will never know who I am, but I think we’re both aligned on this one: I don’t want him to lose his investors’ money on this one either!

Of course if you’ve [ever caught an Uber, you might want to rethink your objection to Lance’s involvement (or your use of this car sharing service)!

Will there be changes?

I can guarantee there will be changes. I’d be lying otherwise. However, this isn’t the first time we’ve done this. The business sold to BikeExchange in 2016, and then to PinkBike in 2019. Each time this has happened we’ve gotten better. There have been uncomfortable transition periods where our audience was up in arms saying that we’d sold out and that they hated the changes we’ve implemented, but people always calm down when they see that we’re on the path of providing a better service.

I wish I could say what the future changes might be, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. For the past few years I’ve had to curb my ambitions to focus on our business fundamentals, but now we are in a new growth phase where we can do some exciting things I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

The litmus test for my thinking above is simply looking at VeloNews. I’ve been following them closely for years and have some insight into what they’ve gone through behind the scenes. I can say with certainty they are doing much better work for their audience now than they have since their glory days, and I trust we’ll follow the same trajectory.

Whether it’s tomorrow or in five years time, when you come to the website it’ll be the same journalists creating content about cycling in the same manner and with the same beliefs as always, and we’ll be working tirelessly to ensure this keeps improving for you.

What will change?

First off I want to point out there are lots of things we have in the works that will be coming to fruition soon. These were put onto motion long before Outside ever came onto the scene. Any changes we’re going through with Outside at the moment and probably for the next 6-12 months are purely internal (finance, operations, HR, IT, etc). As small and nimble as we are at CT, any changes will be well-considered and won’t happen quickly.

So when you see a new homepage layout coming this week, or a new forum being launched, know that this has nothing to do with Outside! We’ve been working on many things for the past six months that weren’t influenced by anything that’s happening now.

My membership primarily went to supporting CyclingTips and now it’s owned by venture capitalists. How do you explain or justify this?

The misunderstanding here is the thinking that CyclingTips no longer has any financial responsibilities and we have an open chequebook. The CyclingTips business will always need to maintain a healthy balance sheet to keep existing (that’s my job). Profits at this stage of the business are still being reinvested into more journalists, important initiatives like women’s cycling coverage, and so much more, in an effort to build a better service for you. This is my #1 responsibility. The moment CyclingTips becomes a distressed business because we’re unprofitable and can’t sustain ourselves is the moment we’ll cease to exist (or shortly after).

Before the Outside acquisition we were primarily owned by private equity (and they were fantastic to work with). Before that, BikeExchange was primarily owned by investors. Before that, I was funding this myself and that was not sustainable if we wanted to grow. I have no doubt that we would not be in business anymore if I hadn’t made these steps to secure our future.

My membership went to CyclingTips to support your independence, honesty, and trustworthiness and it’s what differentiated you from the rest. Now it feels like you’re no longer independent.

These values are something that were instilled into CyclingTips from the day we started. It’s embedded in our culture and belief system. I don’t see that changing for as long as I’m around, and hopefully endure for long after.

What happens if I’m an Outside+ member and VeloClub member? Do I get a refund on one of them?

Excellent question, and a scenario I didn’t anticipate. I’ll look into this and get back to you.

How can I cancel my membership?

We’re sorry to see you go, but also grateful for your support and patronage thus far. This acquisition might change the equation for some of you, and I understand that. You can cancel your membership by heading to cyclingtips.com, clicking on the red/black icon that floats on the bottom right of your screen, and selecting ‘manage subscription’ where you can cancel.

I’d like to thank the majority of you for keeping an open mind, for the hundreds of positive messages of support, and most of all for being here with us on this journey.

Finally, just know that we love CyclingTips as much as you do. We’re not exactly sure what changes are ahead, but we’ll be doing everything to make sure we stay true to the vision that led you to be a part of us.

Since I wrote this email 2.5 months ago nothing has changed. There’s still lots we’re working through (mainly how VN and CT compliment each other rather than cover the same types of stories). We have some very cool projects coming up that were in the pipeline before Outside and that’s not changing.

Not once has Outside anyone from said, ‘hey - can you spruik Lance’s podcast’ or anything of the like. But unfortunately this is the lens that we seen through now, and I can’t change that. We work exactly like we did 6 months ago, and 10 years ago.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

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That’s quite a clear and comprehensive answer. Sad to discover even a remote connection with the worse cheater / mafia style person we saw in cycling, even if not in CT control).

Thank you Wade, that answers my questions - cheers for replying.

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Thanks Wade. That clears up a lot. I’m one of those people who dropped you email (even if it was accidental the first time!), and I appreciate the continuing updates.

I’m not a fan of Lance and his crew, but as you pointed out, if we make every decision in life by ensuring not even a penny goes to a party we don’t support, we’ll probably all end up living in caves…and giving our penny to the mob to protect us.

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Good clear objective response WW.