After helping shape Australian car culture for more than half a century – and becoming a driving force in iconic Holden-versus-Ford battles – Motor Magazine has reached the end of the road.
One of Australia’s most iconic car magazines, Motor, will print its last edition next month after 68 years.
Originally called Modern Motor and launched in May 1954, the magazine helped shape Australian car culture and was one of the driving forces in iconic Holden-versus-Ford battles on the road and track for more than half a century.
Motor Magazine – a sister title to Wheels Magazine – is due to print its last and 827th issue in June 2022 and be on the news stands in July, the company announced today.
As with women’s magazines, ‘lads’ magazines, and weekly tabloid titles, Australian car magazines have struggled in the internet age.
Compounding this, the decline in sales of car magazines have accelerated since the shutdown of local Ford and Holden factories by the end of 2017 – and amid the dramatic shift in buyer tastes to four-wheel-drives and utes which now account for the majority of new-car sales.
A decade ago, passenger cars including the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon accounted for more than half of all new motor vehicles sold. Today, passenger cars represent less than 20 per cent of new motor vehicle deliveries.
Increased paper costs and a dwindling magazine audience have slammed the brakes on a magazine that was read by generations of Australian car enthusiasts.
While women’s magazines saw a spike in sales during lockdowns and travel restrictions over the past two years during the COVID pandemic, motoring magazines hit reverse over the same period given airports and petrol stations formed a large part of their sales.
The CEO of Wheels Media, Christian Clark, told Drive that retiring Motor Magazine was “the hardest decision the company has had to make and was not done lightly.”
The iPad edition of Motor Magazine stopped being updated last year and only limited digital back issues are available.
The company says it is yet to decide if Motor Magazine will remain online – and if the extensive back catalogue of magazines will be digitised and preserved for future generations.
Much of the information contained in motoring magazines published in the pre-internet era cannot be found online and could be lost to history unless they are copied into a digital format.
Industry insiders say Motor Magazine was perilously close to being shut down on several occasions over the past five years, each time winning a stay of execution to help to protect other motoring titles within the group such as Wheels, 4×4 Australia, Street Machine and Unique Cars, which shared production costs and delivered economies of scale.
Circulation figures and publisher claims sourced by Drive reveal a sharp decline from a peak of more than 65,000 sales of the December 2003 edition, to an average of 10,000 copies per month in 2020, down to approximately 7000 copies per month so far this year.
Industry insiders say the absence of Motor Magazine will put increased pressure on the remaining motoring titles in the stable such as Wheels, 4×4 Australia, and Street Machine, which will no longer be able to amortise costs with Motor Magazine.
However, Mr Clark – who also oversees the other motoring magazines within the group – said the decision to retire Motor Magazine “absolutely will not extend to the other titles.”
“We are consolidating all of our efforts into our remaining titles and focusing on the digital side of the business,” said Mr Clark, who noted the motoring group’s online audience had grown by 30 per cent in the past year.
Although approximately 10 jobs across the motoring media group are understood to have been made redundant earlier this week, Mr Clark said 80 per cent of Motor Magazine staff will remain employed.
While the exact number is yet to be calculated, there were more than a dozen editors of Motor Magazine over 68 years – and countless Holden-versus-Ford tests, which inevitably prompted accusations of bias from readers when their favourite brand of car didn’t win a contest.
In addition to numerous and notable industry “scoops” and exclusive road tests of super-rare cars, Motor Magazine did occasionally get some of its cover speculations wrong, including tipping Holden would build a convertible Monaro, revive the Torana in the early 2000s, and introduce a diesel Commodore (three examples pictured above) none of which made it to showrooms.
But readers quickly forgave – or forgot – these indiscretions thanks to page after glossy page of stunning photography of high-performance cars from Australia and overseas, being tested on the road and track.
Motor Magazine experimented a number of times with foreign cars on the cover – in a bid to broaden the magazine’s audience and reduce the dependence on Holden-versus-Ford battles – but each time sales of that edition would tank.
Once Holden and Ford were no longer making cars in Australia, Motor Magazine pivoted to higher-quality paper stock, top-level photography, and an ultra-modern art direction – to turn it into a monthly “coffee table book”.
In the process Motor Magazine became aesthetically beautiful, but even that wasn’t enough to arrest the sales slide.
According to insiders, for a period of time in the past five years, Motor Magazine was more profitable than sister magazine Wheels due its smaller cost base.
Drive has been told there was until recently a plan to digitise the entire back catalogue of Motor Magazine to preserve 68 years of motoring history – and to secure information that can’t be found on the internet – but that decision was paused due to cost.
Motor Magazine says existing subscribers will be given a subscription to sister title Wheels Magazine – or have their Wheels subscription extended if already a subscriber.
Circulation figures show the December 2003 edition of Motor Magazine (pictured above) was the biggest-seller in the history of the title, recording 65,273 sales for that issue.
By early 2022, sales had dropped to 7000 copies per month.
Motor Magazine says it will print extra copies of the final edition, “to say thank you and goodbye to our loyal audience.”