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January 17, 2018

What to Make Of “Track And Field News” Going Digital

I think the first time I’d ever seen Track and Field News was in my high school American Government class. The teacher was my high school track coach, who was not the most academically rigorous instructor that I’ve ever had and there was plenty of extra time in class to read whatever was sitting around. I must have talked a mile about TFN at home, because I got a subscription for Christmas that year.

My first issue was December 1988, the end-of-year annual issue with world rankings and world lists and all that good stuff. Aside from a small two-month gap right after college, I’ve been a subscriber ever since. I still have nearly every issue from 1989 to now and have expanded my collection backwards into the 1960s.

Yesterday’s news that the magazine has ceased its paper-format publication and will now be in electronic form only was surprising only in that TFN has held out far longer than most of its peers.

Here’s the statement that was put out by the magazine:

” It will come as a surprise to no one that these aren’t the best of times for ink & paper-based publications, but fear not, Track & Field News isn’t going away. We’re just ceasing our print version. The December 2017 edition was the last one you’ll ever find in your snail-mail box, or on a newsstand. From now on, it’s all-electronics-all-the-time. There are some marked advantages to switching to the e-world, of course, not the least of which is the ability to be on top of breaking news in something closer to real time, rather than having to wait up to a month. There is another shoe about to drop, however. Even with the savings that come with ceasing the print version, we still need to raise our rates to stay in business. Let year 71 begin!”

The world of magazine publishing was a precarious one even in the best of times and these are not the best of times. The Sporting News, a weekly baseball-centric tabloid from its inception in 1886 until 2008, ceased its printed version in 2012. SPORT, once a major magazine and now all but forgotten, ran from 1946 to 2000 and folded completely. Sports Illustrated still publishes paper versions but has gone to a biweekly format while doubling subscription prices. SI’s parent company, Time Inc., was just sold to Meredith Corp. There is belief that the sports publication could then be sold in early 2018 once Meredith closes on its purchase of Time Inc.

TFN’s subscription rate just went up too, but miraculously it’s the first increase in 18 years. The subscription gets you more now than it did back in 2000, too. The companion Track Newsletter has been published weekly since the 1950s and it became a free e-mail add-on in 2002. The loss of a paper version is a big loss to the track and field community, but the real goal here is survival – and as of right now, TFN is managing to do that.

The above tells you everything you need to know about the difficulties facing the publishing business. These days you don’t have to walk 20 feet to get all the results and lists and everything else that Willis used to take so much effort to get. You also don’t need a sportswriter to tell you how Willis feels about this since you can read it for yourself on Twitter.

For reading pleasure, I prefer paper versions of books and magazines but in this case I’ll take what I can get. I’ve been an online-only subscriber since that became an option a few years ago and I’m in the long and arduous process of scanning my back issues into PDFs. Since I know that editor Garry Hill is a fan of the film “The Last of the Mohicans”, I’ll say that my attitude towards the past and future of Track and Field News is what Hawkeye told Cora Munro:

“You’re strong! You survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far.”

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