It’s nothing new that “everything” is going digital. The simple truth is outlets will not be able to survive without taking the digital plunge. For my general news, great, I’m all for it. Sports. Politics. Breaking news. All great things I want immediately at my fingertips. But when we’re talking about cars — a passion second only to Jesus Christ — it’s a different story.
I grew up with car magazines. When my dad brought home magazines like Car and Driver, MotorTrend and Road & Track it was like Christmas. What car would be on the cover? Would the Chevrolet Corvette beat out the Dodge Viper? I admit, in my Hot Wheels playing days, I wasn’t exactly paying attention the cool analogies the writer used to describe the car. I liked the pretty pictures and ripped some of them out for nice rough-edged makeshift posters.
When I talked to Manoli Katakis, co-founder and editorial director of GMAuthority.com, he brought up why magazines are something special.
“Books have come back because eBooks are boring,” Katakis said. “There’s a lack of aesthetics to eBooks or magazines. It looses some soul. The market responded to that. It’s really cool to go to someone’s house and they’ve got the latest issue of Road & Track on their coffee table. It’s going to get worse for (print circulation) before it gets better. It’s going to require some adjusting. It’ll be interesting to see what magazines can make it out to the other side in five to 10 years.”
There’s just something about the print copy in my hands. I’m not naïve. I am aware there are more pictures of cars to be found online. I am aware there are videos on YouTube. Those are all great but, for me, don’t trump the print edition. There’s almost a sense of ownership and pride with the vehicles you read about — even though my name is only printed on the front cover.
But it gets worse. There might not even be cars to talk about enthusiastically when autonomous vehicles come around.
“I think you’re going to see some revolutionary automotive journalism by 2020 when self-driving cars start hitting the market,” Phil Nussell, online editor of Automotive News said. “That’s not a foregone conclusion that regulators are going to make it possible, but certainly the technology will be ready to go by 2020. You’re going to see more improved coverage on self-driving vehicle and technology.”
However, where I do see promise for automotive journalism innovating for the better is through virtual reality. Although Katakis see’s VR as “kind of gimmicky,” like Robert Hernandez, journalism associate professor at USC, I see much promise in the technology.
“Whether you dismiss it as hype or not, the truth is virtual reality technology is coming, and it is coming faster than you think,” Hernandez said in an interview with Fast Company. “The biggest challenge the journalism industry faces in 2016 is how can they invest and innovate on an emerging technology that hasn’t gone mainstream yet.”
Automotive outlets like Winding Road Magazine have taken baby steps towards this approach by uploading videos of a driver simply driving vehicles with a GoPro slapped on the their head to give a more POV angle and feel. Virtual reality can take this to the next level.
Enthusiasts and consumers can sit in their living room and look around the car the journalist is talking about. The writer doesn’t like the look of the plastic on the door panels? No picture of the door panels? Now the reader can look around the car and make their own judgment about the door panels’ plastic. Not to mention they can look at other parts of the car that may have not been pictured or covered in the article.
In sum, nothing will replace the tangible and intangible joy of having a physical copy of Road & Track in my hands. But if automotive journalism wants to stay relevant and attract a younger crowd, they need to bring the reader along for the ride through virtual reality.