Old Bike Mart
28th July 2016
OBM | Classic bikes | Vintage bikes | Mortons
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Old Bike Mart (OBM) has been around since 1985. It started on a shoestring as a freebee rag catering, unsurprisingly, to the old bike market. The first print run, as far as we can remember, was just a few thousand smudged copies. They were distributed to whatever UK motorcycle shops were within reach of founder and editor Ken Hallworth (and we have to confess that we occasionally picked up a handful of copies to take home and soak up oil on the garage floor).
An old van turned up once a month at the local bike shop and dumped a huge stack of grimy newspapers inside the door. Sometimes dry. Sometimes wet. Most of the papers eventually went in the bin, but slowly the publication took root, and eventually subscribers appeared.
Mortons Motorcycle Media of Horncastle, Lincs was the original printer of OBM. The story goes that VMCC man Ken Hallworth, following X-number of years trying to grow and otherwise develop the publication, became tired and disillusioned. Aided and abetted by wife and friends, he'd been working hard on everything from editorial, to selling ads, to promotion to delivery. It's said that he once jokingly mentioned to someone at Mortons that they could buy the bloody paper if they wanted. Or words to that effect.
Mortons took him seriously and made him an offer. Hallworth accepted it, and that was that. But is it true or false? Who cares? It's an agreeable little anecdote and plays well, and we'll believe anything if you will.
The paper doesn't appear to have changed in format since day one. But it has changed. It was originally black and white, and there were fewer pages. But then, the pagination rises and falls in line with the usual publishing pressures. The editorial has always focussed on the obvious stuff; Unearthed by Mike Worthington-Williams (always a popular column). Readers letters. A page of self promotion. An advertorial. New old bike products. Another page of self promotion. Who did what and where in any given year? Another advertorial. Readers bikes. And, of course, the classified ad pages.
OBM today isn't a patch on what it used to be. But then, what the hell is? Times have changed, and the proliferation of internet information pertaining to motorcycles, when coupled with eBay, has for many classicos made Old Bike Mart largely redundant. That's not to say that web information has produced reliable information. Far from it. But folk will get what they want wherever they can get it. And loyalty to any given newspaper or magazine is a fickle thing.
At best, OBM is a useful paper to check when you're searching for a hard to get part for your rare old crock. At worst, it's dull and repetitive and constantly raids its own archives to regurgitate yesterday's news. Chewing the cud wouldn't be so bad if there were new insights. But mostly, it's the same old same old written by the same old same olds and, well, read by the same old same olds.
OBM desperately needs fresh blood, but Mortons is unlikely to tamper very much with a formula that for decades has kept paper on its presses and put money in its pockets. So no doubt the rag will soldier on and remain what it is, which is imperfect, but available.
Old Bike Mart is heavily promoted through Mortons' other titles which include:
The Classic MotorCycle
Classic Bike Guide
Classic Dirt Bike
Back Street Heroes
The paper is also distributed at Mortons' bike shows that include:
'Normous Newark Autojumble
The Carol Nash Bristol Classic MotorCycle Show
The Footman James Great Western Autojumble
The Classic Dirtbike Show
The Carole Nash International Classic MotorCycle Show
The Footman James Bristol Classic Car Show
The Carole Nash Netley Marsh Eurojumble
The Carole Nash Classic Mechanics Show
The International Dirt Bike Show
The Footman James Classic Vehicle Restoration Show
Beyond that, Mortons Media has various motorcycle websites, and Old Bike Mart online finally looks like it's starting to post some new news. As opposed to old news. The style is much the same as everything Mortons does, which is pretty dull and plodding. But there is useful information there if you keep trawling, and when taken in the round, the content does keep clubs and traders and riders more or less in touch with what's happening.
Also, OBM is currently posting plenty of free-to-view BIKES FOR SALE adverts online, which simply gives us, as punters, less reason to buy the newspaper. And there's the rub; if you're trying to sell newsprint, exactly how much free info do you want to hand out on your website? It's an equation that we wouldn't want to wrestle with. And note that we've removed part of the contact details on the ads above to prevent unwanted calls when the bikes are no longer for sale.
Today, Old Bike Mart is boasting 32,000 newspaper subscribers. The vast majority are, we're told, resident in the UK, but around 500 subscribers live overseas. A two year subscription costs £32. That will net you 24 issues. Or you can opt for a one year deal at £17 (12 issues). Or you can buy a single issue and just send it to yourself every month. You won't notice much difference.
And okay, 32,000 subscribers sounds like a pretty solid fan base. But Mortons' numbers are untested. The firm steadfastly refuses to have its sales figures audited, so you can believe the numbers or not. And beware; Mortons operates a shrewd data capture regime. So if you don't want your details used and shared with whoever you've inadvertently agreed to share them with, read the small print.
As for website visitors, Mortons wouldn't tell you at gunpoint. But the firm has plenty of mags and newspapers with which to promote their online offerings, meaning that your guess is as good as ours. Or almost.
So we think OBM is basically just crap, huh? Not at all. Sooner or later, if you're in the classic bike scene and need a rare part or service, or are looking for a club to join or a convenient motorcycle run, you'll be grateful to Mortons. Just don't expect anything too highbrow, original or poetic. Mortons is a workaday, empire-building firm that publishes what it publishes and is in it for the money. So if you want wit, humour, memorable prose and visceral thrills, try Shakespeare.
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