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Take Five: EP 008 RIP Surfer Magazine and Michael Tomson

/ PRV
10.11.20 – TAGS:

As we mentioned last week, the granddaddy of surf media, Surfer Magazine, has been shuttered. After 60 years of continuous publication, it would seem that the latest of its many owners, A360, has pulled the plug on both the print and digital operations.

You could see it coming as one by one many other printed publications have fallen into some form of distress. People just don’t read magazines anymore. Shit, we stopped printing magazines two years ago and now focus 100% on our digital platforms. But for whatever reason, Surfer couldn’t seem to make the jump to an online-only platform even with their huge audiences. That said, it might not have mattered. A360 has been known to close functioning publications for no apparent reason. 

Surfer came to A360 as part of a portfolio of titles under the Enthusiast Network that included all the Transworld titles, Powder, Bike, and a few others. Most have now been shuttered or are about to be regardless of their individual profitability. The crazy part is that a few of the titles had legit offers for outright purchase of which to date have all be denied by A360.

Let’s try to get this straight: A360 paid huge bucks for the whole portfolio only to close most of them a few years later and then refuse to even attempt to recoup some of the losses by selling off any assets of remaining value. 

Okay, whatever.

Before we close the book on that however, we did what to add one thing. 

There has been a lot of sad “good old days” remembrances posted on social media and message boards talking to the honor and prestige of working at Surfer, having a photo or story run, or even appearing as a surfer in the magazine. Including from many surf industry folks.

It was very touching.

But let’s get something really fucking clear here: Surfer, and many other surf publications, are now gone because the industry that those same surf magazines help build over the years basically turned their collective backs on surf publishing across the board. 

Simply, Surfer Magazine, and others, are gone because the surf industry killed them.

A case could be made that kids today no longer want print so pulling the plug on that portion of surf media was long coming but why wouldn’t those same dollars be then applied to the digital properties of surf media? Have a look at the big digital guns like Surfline, Magic Seaweed, WSL, and even Surfer itself, which all have huge traffic numbers, but really don’t receive what might be deemed as appropriate endemic industry support.

The interesting irony being that virtually every surf brand who has given up on traditional brand-building strategies and began embracing transactional consumer relationships are all hurting as relative to past successes. The industry high point of the the early 2000s had multiple surf media titles stuffed with core, endemic advertising of which coincided with some of the best years for almost every brand. Now they’re all fighting for likes, views, and “buy nows” on a two-inch screen while their revenues continue to plummet. All that happening during a period which sees more surfers today than at any other time in history.

Guess what guys, maybe you’re doing a shitty job of marketing.

Which segues perfectly to the recent passing of one of surfing’s true marketing geniuses.

Michael Tomson.

It was long before most of our time but MT, as he was known, had his finger on the pulse of core surfing like no other. He came on the scene as a ripping South African pro but quickly transformed himself into an industry visionary with the launching of his brand, Gotcha. MT was perfectly paired with the music, style, and excitement of the surf culture exploding at that time and Gotcha quickly became one of surfing’s most successful brands.

His careful manipulation of surf media being one of his strongest attributes.

Yes, they eventually fucked it up by growing too quickly but those were pioneer days where every step was a new one. MT and the Gotcha brand blazed trail of which many brands today would be hopeless without. It must have been hard for him to watch the industry, his industry, once again fall into the same trap he did. 

And it also must have been hard for him to watch his favorite tool of choice, media, become an advertorial shit show without any semblance of an authoritative voice or authentic connection to the core consumer.

In many ways, surf marketing died with MT.

MT. Photo: Dan Merkel

Rest in peace legend.

What Youth

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