There was a great Discord discussion this week focused on our decision to go quite light on coverage at the start of the Vuelta a España. In particular, the question was why we put so many resources into the Tour de France and so few into the Vuelta.
We’re going to start using these member newsletters (you can sign up to receive them here), which go out every Friday, to provide a deeper level of insight into the inner workings of EC. They will often be based on some discussion we’ve had on the Escape Discord, or in the comments, or via email. My goal isn’t to send you a pile of excuses, it’s to explain how we arrive at various decisions, whether they turn out to be correct or not.
We make hundreds of editorial decisions every week, some big and some small, and some definitely, unquestionably wrong. Let’s talk about one of them now.
First, the broader context. We are roughly six months into our existence. We are funded entirely by your memberships, meaning we have a strict budget and the penalty for exceeding it for too long is quite dire. There is no Uncle Venture Capital Bucks to fill gaps for us; we have to be exceptionally careful with your membership dollars.
Our editorial decisions are based on a combination of data (we only recently feel like we have enough data to inform anything), growth ambition, an understanding of our niche beat, strategy, and, very much for want of a better term, vibes. In other words, we don’t want to be a wholly data-driven organization. Chasing the wrong numbers tends to push us slowly toward the homogenous. We firmly believe this is what makes most online media absolute garbage. We also want to lean on our experience, what we love, and try to match that with your feedback. It’s an impossible balance, really, and one we’ll never fully nail or settle on. We’ll constantly tweak it in one way or the other.
So, Tour de France vs. Vuelta. At the Tour (I’m including men’s and women’s when I say Tour), we had no fewer than three staff on the ground, up to four, plus a crucial team of folks working for four weeks straight at home. Total cost: somewhere around $40,000 before we even get to salaries. That’s 400 annual memberships right there.
We have no staff on the ground at the Vuelta. On the first weekend, we had only Kit Nicholson doing reports and myself doing odd bits and bobs, though my limited time ended up being taken up with getting the XC World Cup reports up.
Bit of a difference, huh?
Part of the strategic importance of the Tour is that it pulls in a much broader and larger audience than anything else all year. There is potential to convert these people into fans and thus into members. The Vuelta, as much as us super fans might love it, doesn’t do this. Fringe cycling fans don’t care about it at all, and us publishing a large volume of Vuelta stories won’t change that. We’ve tried.
So the two races have two different purposes. Tour coverage, for us, is as much about finding new members as it is about serving current members. To put it more bluntly, the TDF coverage is about growth and Vuelta coverage is about reducing churn (churn = members cancelling or not signing up again). Given we are in our first year and still need to grow simply to reach profitability, putting more resources into the TDF makes sense. We signed up A LOT of new people in July. Way more than 400. We could throw as much as we want at the Vuelta and would not end up with a similar result.
Still, there was a mistake there, wasn’t there? We went too light. You have certain expectations of us and we didn’t meet them in that first weekend. We needed somebody else writing, watching for crazy stories that might pop up. You may have opened the site on Monday morning expecting to see details on the Remco crash and we had very little. There are some good excuses for this (much of our small staff has been on vacation in the last few weeks, recovering from TDF madness) but nothing we couldn’t have solved.
We are most of the way through a broader editorial audit and you will see a few changes in the coming weeks based on what we’ve learned. Total story volume is going to decrease slightly (relative to June/July highs) as story depth increases by a similar amount. There are going to be more options to get specific authors and content types in your inbox (women’s racing and tech niches likely to be first, though all email products will also end up on the site because we know some people (me!) hate their inbox).
Podcasts are also going to get additional attention, because an outsized portion of you cite them as a primary reason for signing up and staying signed up. I could see us doing dailies from all three Grand Tours next year and we will invest in making all our pods better. Yes, including the Vuelta.
I’ll talk more about this audit and the changes in a coming newsletter. For now, keep telling us what you think. Shout when we ignore the opening of a Grand Tour. You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t expect us to change immediately, but do hold us to at least explaining why we do things.
You can sign up to receive a selection of Escape Collective’s newsletters here. To support our mission and receive all our newsletters that give you a peek behind the curtain directly from our Editors, you can join here.
What did you think of this story?