Ignorance gets a bad rap. While some embrace it a little too enthusiastically, it can be helpful… no; really. As an example, had I known what I’d be up against when it came to starting THUNDER PRESS, well, I probably would have just gone for a long ride instead. But because I really didn’t know what I didn’t know, I just blithely—and ignorantly—carried on.
The mechanical aspects of publishing, e.g. layout, paste-up, photo screens, were new to me but as they were defined processes, I figured I could learn them, I did (“paste-up,” “photo screens”… archaic terms from last century). My smugness, however, got seriously slapped about when it came to some of the art aspects. Particularly the “art” of selling ads, at which I sucked.
Issue #1 held seven ads in its 20 pages, each one painfully sold by yours truly. And all were to friends, or friends of friends. It took me three months to do it, and I hated every minute of it. There was no way, though, that I could get around it; I either had to sell, or close the doors. For several months I managed to sell enough ad space to keep the doors open. But it took the hiring of three Hall of Famers (if THUNDER PRESS had a Hall of Fame), Debra Allen, Kate Chickering and Bev Nehmer, to put us on semi-solid financial ground.
The months before publishing Issue #1 was a blur of activity, but also very exciting (except for that ad sales thing). I was climbing several steep learning curves, but the challenges were the reason I did it. The first issue and several thereafter were targeted at Northern California only, with a press run of 5,000. I can very vividly recall driving up to the printer’s shipping dock and seeing a pallet stacked with my papers. This might sound a bit silly, but that was a very emotional moment. Then came the next big hurdle: distribution.
I had compiled a list of regional motorcycle-related shops that I thought would be interested in distributing a free THUNDER PRESS. With my van loaded with fresh-off-the-press newspapers I began making the rounds of the shops on my list. Simple, right? Nope. Many of these shops did not want the papers —free, or not—“cluttering up” their counters. As one shop related, there were numerous free “rags” out there, and most failed after an issue or two. I was aware of the other papers, but I believed I could do a better job because, without exception, they were poorly written and edited, slapped together, and appeared irregularly. It took several months to gain entrance at most shops, but we did it by producing a quality product. As an example of what we were up against, each month I’d visit the shops and offer to take back any remaining papers. Usually there weren’t any because they just tossed them in the trash. At one particular shop, they always told me they gave out all papers I’d deliver. That is until I discovered all the unopened bundles at the back of their shop.
The problems, issues, roadblocks and hurdles were, at first, ongoing. More than once I was ready to throw in the towel, say “nice try” to our small staff, and move on. But something positive always managed to appear and give us the energy to continue. Usually that “positive” was in the form of a new hire, referred to as a “Finugy” around the office. (You’ll have to think about that term a bit to understand it.) Early in my working life I was offered a bit of advice that took me years to fully understand. To wit, “Always hire people smarter than you.” I customized it a bit: “Always hire people smarter than you, and listen to them.” Doing that was what allowed THUNDER PRESS to succeed.
Thanks Reg, im looking for more to come.
I like the nostalgia stuff.
It’s great to hear the origins story. I am reading this as I am contemplating leaving Lake Tahoe on my family’s last day of vacation.and getting back to reality, and missing my Road King.
I started riding in 1992 (I was 22) with my first HD being a used 1988 Sportster I purchased at Cycle Imagery down town Santa Cruz. Since that day in 1992 I have always looked forward to reading TP. In the last 26 years I’ve been through a few bikes. No matter what, I always look for the new mag at whatever bike shop I am near. Thanks and keep up the great work!
Hey Reg! Really enjoyed reading the Early Days articles. Brings back lots of memories. Remember the “word search” puzzles I used to make for you?
I think I still have a couple of the early issues in the garage somewhere, and I just recently came across my “Official Thunder Press” press pass (#12). Gotta say I don’t look much like that picture anymore! ;^)
Hope all is well with you and yours.