Guest Newsletter – Mark Alker

Once a month we invite our Patrons, magazine publishers and enthusiasts to guest-edit our fortnightly email newsletter. The aim is to inspire others with magazine-related content, connect Patrons and build our community so we can learn from each other.

This month our guest editor is the founder and managing director of Singletrack magazine, Mark Alker. Singletrack is a 20 years young mountain biking magazine, ranked second in the world for mountain biking news and reviews. Driven by a membership model, Singletrack’s community is at its heart, with more than 60,000 people using its forum every day. Mark is on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram – remember to connect and say hello!

Tell us about yourself

I am a co-founder of Singletrack World Magazine and its digital companion which was founded in the midst of the foot-and-mouth pandemic of 2001. Like most people in the specialist consumer publishing world, I fell into it from a proper job that I quit. I used to be a teacher, a career in which I held actual qualifications.

Now I’m a publisher and apart from learning on the job and from making many mistakes over the last two decades, I have absolutely no qualifications to do what I do. I have found this is quite common in our industry and it’s why I love it.

Singletrack World Magazine Cover 149 – Out in June

What’s on your mind?

The largest proportion of my time currently is being spent with the close knit team we have at Singletrack working on our membership proposition. As the tech platforms continue to bugger about with their algorithms at the expense of publishers, the one true audience that can be relied on is the one you build and curate yourself.

I also appear to be spending an inordinate amount of time wondering when the bloody heck Google is going to turn off third party cookies. Just do it already!

Illustration by Otto Steininger with thanks to Ikon Images. Like what you see? 
Patrons receive their first 5 Ikon Images illustration uses for £50 each

What’s the best article you’ve
read this month?

The brief here is to link to the best article I’ve read this month and ‘why I loved it’. Well, I’m not sure ‘loved it’ is the right choice of words here – it’s not a good news story or inspiring in any way. It was published in the so-called MSM though and I did like the perhaps naive concept that it brings a greater understanding of our industry’s issues to a wider audience.

It’s also my pick of the month primarily because a) I forwarded this article on to the whole team here at Singletrack with the intention/hope that they would see that many of the problems we face ourselves are actually endemic in the system. It’s important to have that perspective as I’ve found in specialist media in particular it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing your struggle is unique and you are alone. Truth is, we are not. Everyone is finding it tough and there’s actually some small comfort to be taken in that, if only for the sake of your own mental health.

But then there’s b) that this article highlights the dangers of being reliant on one major source of income as a publisher, especially one where the value of the commodity you sell is governed by external forces and interests. Yes, I’m back on the case of the big tech giants once more.

Show us an incredible magazine cover

It’s perhaps a little awkward and narcissistic of me to choose one of our own covers as a highlight but I am really proud of this one, which we ran shortly after we ditched the newsstand and to mark our 20 year anniversary. It was an illustrated cover, which for us is exceedingly rare and came about because we were liberated from the standard rules that apply to creating an effective cover for a newsstand shelf. It’s a wrap-around cover and represents the old/new or past and future of mountain biking. Why is one upside down? Because to be clever we laid out the magazine in two themes of past and future-themed articles. Two magazines in one, each with its own cover, that meet in the middle. In order to not have a back we flipped the two halves of the magazine.

It was something of a middle finger to the monopoly of the newsstand that would never have accepted such a concept – which side would face out? Where would the barcode go? It wasn’t without its issues – we had to really work hard to explain the concept to some very confused subscribers who assumed we’d cocked up in the print run.


What’s your top tip for publishers?

Community is THE buzzword right now and it seems everywhere you turn in the publishing world this is being talked about to one degree or another. I’m lucky in that the Singletrack community is one of the oldest in existence on the internet (a direct descendant of the classic Usenet days no less). Forums are old technology for sure but they are getting their second wind now with publishers as it turns out that big tech can’t bugger them up. But also, while trust is in scarce supply as far as the big tech monoliths are concerned it turns out that is exactly what powers communities built on the platforms of trusted media.

If you take the traditional sales funnel with reach at the widest part and paid subscribers at the narrow end, then there’s no higher quality starting point than to have your own forum community sitting right there on your own platform.

So long as you get the moderation right there’s a lot to be optimistic about publishers big and small taking back control of their audiences from the social platforms that are only there to exploit our work and take the spoils for themselves.

Hmm. That sounds like a campaign slogan right there. Anyone know if that’s been used before?

Housty, we have a problem

What problem would you like our magazine consultant, Peter Houston, to solve in the next newsletter?

My question is: How do you pitch a podcast to a client used to seeing reach numbers in the millions?

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