We Started Woody Boater Over 11 Years Ago To Help, What Went Wrong?

The Yellow Shirt! Three Smith’s!

Over 11 years ago, this month, every day we here have done a small story about some sort of aspect of the classic boat community. Not geeky parts info or selling boats, just silly dumb and sometimes not dumb stuff. It’s been a blast and we hope you enjoy it. But an interesting side effect has taken place. Instead of helping, is it possible that we have in a strange way caused problems with the ACBS and Chris Craft Club? Now, I am not saying they are in trouble, I don’t really know the inner workings of it all. In a recent board meeting, the ACBS is considering some dramatic cost cutting measures, and even though new members are signing up, or were, they are not renewing, and the Chirs-Craft Club Membership has dropped from when Bill Basler was building it up with the New Brass Bell Design and a more web focused club with the Boat Buzz and archive.

Printing and mailing costs are huge.

Printing and mailing costs of the Rudder and Brass Bell are huge. And both were part of the value proposition of both groups. And here lies the issue. WoodyBoater in many ways has replaced the content in those two magazines. Sometimes it’s redundant  3 months later. WoodyBoater, Facebook and over all the internet has done damage to the value of a printed publication.

We need younger people.

So here I was thinking that we could help inspire new folks into the passion, to help fuel the “Younger” audience. And maybe that is the case. Clubs all across the country and world are seeing the same issues. The entire reason you join was for information and a community. That’s all free now. And so sponsors don’t see the need anymore. Now, many of the sponsors are there to support the culture not as a return on spending. that’s great if you are a large national brand. But for a local shop, not worth it.

So, I apologize, but  the issue isn’t really Woody Boater or facebook, if we didn’t do it, someone else would. And this started happening years ago, and is just now becoming a reality. Newsletters have been replaced with websites, and facebook. Or is it possible that the things covered in the newsletters is not longer relevant.

In the latest issue of Classic Boating Magazine, they have figured it out. Its a magazine, which is really a book you get 4 times a year. It looks great on the coffee table and the content inside is thought through, written well and timeless. Like the article on correct engine paint colors, and wonderful images of boats. Not facebook finger in front of the dock shot stuff.

Classic Facebook!

But, even if the magazine has it nailed. At some point mailing cost and printing will become over whelming and if the magazines cant get more subscribers will become un-sustainable.  So, I suppose in a way we have not helped, and possibly pushed a hobby into becoming a culture. Like yesterdays new way of reporting from Dave Bortner! As odd as it may seem for a passion that spends all its passion looking backwards, from time to time, we need to look forward.



27 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    As always Matt you bring up good questions that we are all working to figure out.

    At the CCABC we are investigating options to reduce our cost of printing and mailing The Brass Bell. We do not want to jeopardize the quality, but the reality is slapping us in the face. At the same time we are receiving e-mails from long time members saying that they feel that The Brass Bell is the best it has ever been and were unable to put it down until they had read it cover to cover.

    M-Fine suggested that we offer a “digital only” membership. This is being discussed. Would it help by bringing in more members, or hurt by reducing revenues because current members choose the less expensive membership? We all know that the fewer magazines that are printed the more expensive the per copy price becomes.

    It seems that there are more questions than answers.

    • Wilson
      Wilson says:

      The trouble here is that there is no silver bullet. I remember ( hard to do, it has been a long time) when I managed CCABC we had a much simpler publication, dues were only $25/per year and membership was around 3,200 or 3,500, I forget which.
      My successor elevated the publication to what was referred to as National Geographic quality and doubled the dues to support it….Many raved about the improved quality of the publication but membership started a downward slide…
      This may have, in part due to apparent trouble making deadlines and at one point there was only three issues in a year….I dunno.

      It struck me however that a survey may have been in order….to determine if a majority ofl members really wanted the new and improved version of The Brass Bell.
      No question that the club suffered some temporary management difficulties which no doubt contributed to the membership decline…

      Club management seems to be under control now but it appears, to me anyhow, that members want more for their money than just a magazine, no matter how good it is….
      Maybe it is a membership card, maybe a windshield decal to give an added sense of belonging…Maybe more incentive programs as is currently offered for insurance…
      Another thing….It seems boats and restorations were comparably cheaper in bygone days than they are now…Something needs to be done to reduce the cost of entry level boats.
      Agreed, the current generation may want more or something different but what ?…The person who figures that out will have found the silver bullet.

  2. Rabbit
    Rabbit says:

    I’m 59 years old and I still feel young in this hobby. I’m also a relative newbie: Less than ten years. As an aesthetic-minded person who works in advertising and design I dreamed of having a beautiful wood boat to go with our vintage wood cabin. Two friends, John Karlson and Mark Setterholm introduced me to this world and gurus like Dave Bortner. But it was Woody Boater that hooked me. Your online gumbo of knowledge, beauty and nonsense makes me realize every morning why I love these boats so much.

    I’m now a board member of my local ACBS chapter, BSLOL and I love all that the club does. As a lover of great magazines I can’t wait for the Brass Bell (don’t cheapen it!), Rudder, Classic Boating and our award-winning chapter newsletter “The Boathouse” to arrive. Bill Balser made The Brass Bell a work of art. The new Rudder is also stunning, although I’m sure there have been calls for larger type and more photography. I need them all.

    But above all, I thank you Matt. You make a huge personal sacrifice to make Woody Boater possible.

    Oh, and we need more young people.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    Well here is my take. The Brass Bell etc. consistently cater to top end boat stories and rarely feature the hard knocks amateur restorer or boat owner who needs nuts and bolts information on keep their own treasure afloat and working.

    Matt – even though you have a great setup on the water and several boats there is no attitude of “mine’s better” or any of that crap to go with it. Just candid stories with either good information or silly stuff.

    Maybe an option for web access only is the way to go for ACBS. I could do without the stuffy magazines.

  4. Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U.P.)
    Mark in Ohio (sometimes da U.P.) says:

    I have been a WB fan for 6 years. Believe it or not my son introduced me to the your blog. I rarely miss a day. Keep up the good work. It his amazing how you come up with something every day!

  5. John U
    John U says:

    I hope “paper” does not go away too soon. I’m addicted to it. I just got done changing the address to my winter home on 28 subscriptions. Whereas Woody Boater follows me everywhere.

  6. Phil Little
    Phil Little says:

    I’m a member of the Lyman Boat Owners Association (LBOA). Our magazine, The Clinker, is issued quarterly. It is exceptionally well done, and as you would expect is specifically relevant to Lyman boats. Our international membership of over a thousand is shepherded by young leadership and is very family oriented. The magazine and the organization are primarily focused on enjoyment of these iconic boats, rather than on some of the stuffier aspects of antique and classic boats, as is often typical in other organizations. I expect the LBOA to remain vibrant in the future.

  7. BigRed
    BigRed says:

    Want young people? Avoid the drama and politics… I can get that in the real world. We are attracted to woodie boats because of the idea of simpler times, etc… we don’t have our own memories of it, it’s all a dream. If that dream goes away, so will we. The shift on WB to intentionally devicive, controversial and ‘choose a side’ stories is ruining it… Not technology. Competition for clicks may be the world we live in, but not my dream world of woodie boats.

    • Kelly
      Kelly says:

      Well said. After thinking about this a bit I have decided it is WB that will be purged from my wood boat experience. No need for this. Goodbye 👋.

  8. Briant
    Briant says:

    Oh boy. Well, when I first joined the ACBS, I received a discount from Hagerty which was the same as the membership, so to me it was a pretty good deal….join a club and get the Rudder for basically free. Uh, but now, my discount and the ACBS dues don’t match up…which means I am paying for a magazine….the Rudder. It is beautiful but I grew tired of it….so this year, I did not send in my ACBS membership. Not really sure why I need to join a club, when I get all I need from WB…great stories, great banter with other viewers, contacts if something goes wrong or I have a question etc…..

  9. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    I don’t feel WB and f/b sites offer the in depth detail (unless its about what Matt experiences) of the restoration or repair process that a magazine can offer but neither have these magazines recently Except for Classic Boating’s occasional treatise that seems to be dwindling. There have been others in Brass Bell but they have switched to more “marque” or model history or an individuals contribution. One of the reasons I subscribed to WoodenBoat was the well written “how to” details. But I got tired of waiting for the powerboat articles compare to sail and sailboat design history. I realize most individuals probably don’t do their own work but the “masters” are retiring and they are not being replaced in the numbers we a losing. 30+ years ago at 38, my family jumped into this hobby with both feet and we needed young people back then and it seemed the Turners of Aristocraft fame were the only others who had families in the hobby. There’s a need for more commitment from the rank and file to get involved if we’re going to grow the hobby as opposed to watch it die a slow painful death.

  10. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    By the way, I had a free subsription to Classic Yacht Magazine online (classicyachtmagazine.com) but I see there last issue was sometime in 2016. It was produced with the look and feel of Nautical Quarterly if anyone remembers those beautiful publications. CYM was one of the first mags online which they started in Winter of 2006. Their archive covers still exist but are not accessible for some reason as they were great articles. They did an amazing in depth on Rybovich which was one of the best I’ve read. Sad to see it go. You could page thru it just like a magazine so a larger monitor was an important but costly viewing plus. Fortunately, they are much cheaper, but its gone. I assumed they had many of us on a list of free subsribers

  11. Cincinnati Kid
    Cincinnati Kid says:

    Many traditional organizations are facing the same hurdles as we are in the wooden boat world. Just ask the Model T or A Clubs, the service clubs such as Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis or any other “old” group. Today’s youth are all about the “now” with few thinking further ahead than their two thumbs.
    I ask you to find a plumber, electrician, tool maker, brick layer, machinist or any of the skills that we STILL really need as a society. Two thirds of the kids that go to college shouldn’t but the trades aren’t whiz-bang exciting. Steady work and good pay, but not an apprenticeship at Google or Amazon. What few people grasp anymore is that for it to be bought from a warehouse, SOMEONE has to make it to go on the shelf. And yes, beef comes from cows, not from the magic shop in the back at Krogers, wrapped in plastic…….
    I was blessed to grow up every summer of my youth on a lake in northern MI, working at the local marina, playing in the band at night, waiting tables and tending bar. The “boat” culture was everywhere and my family always had wood boats, as did many others. It was just part and parcel to the summer cottage community, repeated in many, many places around the US and the world.
    In 2018, we all get our messages differently. I like to read a real book and turn pages, but others have it on their tablet. It’s just not visceral enough for me. Pandora, Spotify, AM/FM, TV, YouTube, billboards, magazines, blogs, web sites, Google (what did we ever do before BG? Before Google, to get information?), social media, Yahoo, CNN…………it’s just plain overwhelming. If you don’t have ADD, just watch CNN for ten minutes and you’ll be numb.
    My point is that many people are overwhelmed and can’t handle one more thing to take care of in their lives. What will happen is that when we introduce those individuals to something simpler without all the bells and all the whistles, they’ll come around. I’ll bet there’s a large group of people who would welcome a simpler car to drive for example……….just turn the radio on with a knob for example. Things ebb and flow.
    What ties us together in the hobby of boats are the things we can feel and touch; the sights, smells and sounds of varnish, oil, gas, mahogany, water against a moving hull, the vibration of the engine, the sound of big cubic inches and on and on.
    Forget all the politics, that’s better left if you want to be confirmed for the next SCOTUS spot on the bench.
    Get out, take a neighbor for a ride, find a kid who has a clue and mentor them. Call up your local news station and take them for a ride, post a clip on YouTube, PROMOTE YOUR LOCAL WORKING WATERFRONT MARINA, be visible and most important of all? Be enthusiastic, be welcoming and don’t be a snob, forget about the damn trophies, educate the masses, show the public that BOATING is FUN!!! Remember that our hobby is an option and unlike needing oxygen every day to survive, ours is still just a HOBBY.
    Get out there and talk it up!!!!!

  12. DougP in the PNW
    DougP in the PNW says:

    Not sucking up. But I prefer WoodyBoater to ACBS (former member) and CCABC (former member) being quite involved in both,- found too much authoritarianism in CCABC and more social and less boating in ACBS. They both insist on their magazines as a communication medium which is outdated, less responsive and costlier than your media. Thanks Matt

    • Troy in ANE
      Troy in ANE says:

      Doug P in PNW: I am sorry that you feel that way. Leaves me a little confused since just a couple of months ago you offered to assist with our internet presence and now you call us “authoritarianism”. Not even sure what you mean by that, but we would be love to have you back.
      Your friend.
      Troy in ANE

  13. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I think there is very little crossover between Woodyboater and the Brass Bell. The Bell is based on longer high quality articles with proper grammar and spelling. Woodyboater is closer to a quick thought of the day. Sometimes news, sometimes humorous or entertaining, sometimes serious, and sometimes controversial. The Bell is mostly none of those things.

    The question the clubs need to ask themselves is why would a younger person want to join? When I first joined the CCABC, the one and only factor was access to the Boat Buzz which was much more active and informative back then. Once I joined, I realized access to the archives is nice but I don’t use it often. The BB is not a factor at all. If there was an option to forgo the Bell and save $1 on your membership I would take it and save the club the printing and shipping costs.

    The problem that Troy recognizes is that the math works great for an individual, but if you have a lot of members give up the print version, the costs per member for those who want a hard copy will skyrocket. If you kill the Rudder or Bell, how many old members will you lose in hopes that the cost savings will help you attract new members through either reduced dues or increased benefits elsewhere? I have no clue, but my intuition says there isn’t likely a big pool of people who would join at $25 but won’t at $50. So, I think the clubs need to offer something more.

  14. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    The way we communicate has changed, but I’m still wanting to know if a 5200 bottom is better than a West System bottom and how did that “it was only supposed to last seven years thing” come about. Hell, my bottom is 70 and with new fasteners, good as new. Solid as a rock. No leaks. Has anyone actually been out in a boat and had the bottom fall off? Now that’s a topic for discussion.

    I love Woody Boater and CCABC because I love wooden boats. Hope they both continue on for a long time to come.

  15. Wudzgud@yahoo.com
    Wudzgud@yahoo.com says:

    Matt, Here are a couple of young people that love wood boats and love to drive them. Just get out there and enjoy the family time.

  16. steve bunda
    steve bunda says:

    11 years old , that explains a lot ! Matt’s writings will just get more mature, Or maybe not. Ha
    Looking forward to another 11 years!

  17. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    here’sJOHNNY.. as Ed said each night! and I note that it is past Tonight Show time as I write this…

    My take: WoodenBoat Magazine….huge circulation, better than ever content and layout…thriving by any standard….?????

    Going Boating …tomorrow…oh wait that’s in 15 minutes…better wait for daylight and Michael to blow away.
    Good post all of the above…food for thought.
    John in Va

  18. Bill Loomis
    Bill Loomis says:

    Matt: your recent Video report was excellent! Can’t get that in any printed form. Print is really over. If the clubs think a publication printed and mailed is the answer they face the same fate as print. WB does an excellent job of informing all of the hobby and is read in this office every day! More video reports please, keep up the good work! WB is today’s best source for the hobby.

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