Here’s why Stab is going to a subscription model
Insert vomit emoji.
Like most everything in 2020, we expect this move to divide our audience straight down the middle.
Stab going to a subscription is something we’ve talked about for some time, but when Covid rolled into town, 10 years happened in 10 months and our hand was forced. Google and Facebook take 60 to 70 percent of all digital marketing spend and we expect that percentage to grow. The sun has passed midday for ad-supported media. For those left it will be a race to the bottom, and speaking from experience, when you’re chasing clicks, you get lost in the outrageous and contagious. Think graphic shark attacks and Ellie-Jean Coffey nudes.
While you might argue the World Surf League will still be delivering free contests on an ad-supported media model, let’s not forget they’re also owned and operated by a billionaire. For this, we should be all very grateful.
There was once a time when we as consumers bought surf films and magazines and the buoyant surf industry could buy Pipe houses and planes at will. Those days of the surf industry are never coming back. Films will still be released from brands like Red Bull but independent voices will continue to quieten. Talking about other people’s work is easy but creating films costs money, from travel to editing to music clearance, not to mention the legwork associated with creating concepts like The Dock.
This is a big test for Stab: we’re either strong enough to survive or we’re expediting the end of our life. Our sense is if we’re not worth the investment from our audience, we shouldn’t be in the game. In the US, Transworld Surf, Surfing, and now Surfer magazines have all been buried. In Australia, Surfing Life, and Tracks are barely recognisable from their glory days.
I’ve been getting calls from friends talking about the opportunities that will be afforded to Stab now that Surfer is closed. I disagree. When Surfing shuttered (who were our closest competitor at the time) I’d say Stab was impacted less than 5 percent. The same way Billabong learned Quiksilver wasn’t the enemy, the structural decline in surf media has nothing to do with other surf media. Their demise doesn’t open any doors and we hope our friends at places like Surfing World and the Encyclopedia of Surfing thrive.
What we’ve discovered since we’ve started charging for our films like Stab in the Dark and Electric Acid along with events like Stab High and Surf100, is the emergence of a smaller, more loyal audience who support us financially because they value our output. So rather than chase down those elusive vanity metrics that might only impress our parents—or, fleetingly, a 24-year-old media buyer—we are shifting our focus to this core audience.
So, here’s how it’s going to look:
The day-to-day Stab won’t change, you can expect the same shitty journalism you’ve come to hate from us. We’re also bringing back our own old While You Were Sleeping section, remodeled as ‘Elsewhere’. This will be an abridged chronicle of all that aggregate stuff happening outside of Stab, just so you know what’s going on—we’ll point back to the source for the full story.
Those who subscribe to Stab will have access to the good stuff — feature films like Stab in the Dark, Electric Acid Surfboard Test and their respective spin-offs (like the Microdose with Jai Glindeman, live now), and one-off films like Andy Irons and the Radicals, which premieres next month, 10 years after his death. Our premium films will never make it to YouTube. For all the fury you give ol’ Teflon-coated Ashton Goggans in the comments, you have to agree that the motherfucker knows how to make compelling surf flicks.
We’re supplementing our films by reinvesting in the written word, with deep dives formerly reserved for print. Taylor Paul is leading us here, helping us get Stab Premium off the ground. Jed Smith from Ain’t That Swell will be joining us once again, with a focus on current events and culture in Australia. His first piece about the Australian surfboard shortage will help you figure out why your shaper isn’t returning your calls. Ali Klinkenberg wants to resurrect the profile piece and will be spending time at home with our subjects. He’s working on a piece with Indigenous surfer Otis Carey who has been painting $150k artworks for brands like Google, and you can read his profile of Jai Glindeman next week.
From Doped Youth to Postcards with Morgs, some of Vaughan Blakey’s most noteworthy cultural contributions have been the surf films he’s directed. He’s currently working on a Tom Curren biopic, and it is unlike anything you’d expect. His opening piece focuses on why surfing needs fictionalised surf films and, as a man who lives a cinematic life, he’ll also be extolling existential advice.
Surfboard mastercraftsman, Matt Biolos is one of surfing’s most original thinkers and he’ll be joining once every month or so. France-based Brendan Buckley will continue his unpredictable genius, who knows where his words will fall. And, Mikey C will deliver his sizzling critique of surfboards, surf competition, and surf technique from his mother’s basement.
Mark Mathews will be trying to distill big wave bravado to palatable cheat codes that we can all take something from, too.
My focus will be on the dreary: all that backroom industry dealing and business talk, from the Stab Rich List to new surfer-owned businesses.
For those wondering whether their Stab sub will cover them for Surf100 and Stab High broadcasts in the future, that’s a given (yes).
The upside of this step into the dark valley of doom is that our partners, Vans, are paying for the first month of this subscription for the first 5,000 sign ups, so it de-risks the investment in a try-before-you-buy kinda way. We have been snookered by our payment platform Memberful, however, and the only way to sign up means putting your credit card deets in. We promise to give you three emails to remind you when the trial is up and, if you don’t like what we’ve served up, you can cancel without penalty.
This subscription move will likely surprise a lot of our readers. Where some delight, others will be infuriated. With your financial support, we will invest every dollar back into more quality journalism and independent films.
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