Forty Years Later, News is Still our Mission

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“From the outset, it had been my goal to produce a real newspaper, one that treated boating and the marine world as news, rather than the glossy feature material from which the national magazines were constructed.” — Jack Turner, founding publisher of Soundings Trade Only

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Forty years after Soundings Trade Only launched as a standalone magazine in 1979, the words of its founder still serve as a reliable benchmark to gauge how we’re doing as an industry news source. Turner, a former U.S. Marine and small-town newspaperman, was tired of the way the national boating magazines praised faulty boats and gear or simply failed to report negative news.

Turner had started magazine in 1963 to be marine journalism’s equivalent of, as he often put it, the Flying Tigers — the group of World War II renegade pilots who swooped in, scored quick and often unorthodox victories over Japanese enemies, and flew off. Soundings became the original disrupter of the boating press.

“Jack was a lovable curmudgeon who didn’t suffer fools,” says Bill Sisson, former editor-in-chief of this magazine and editorial director of Active Interest Media’s Marine Group, who worked with Turner for many years. “He wanted to disrupt the status quo by reporting on trends, lawsuits and product liability cases. Everything was fair game, but at the same time, he insisted on fair, accurate and objective reporting.”

In the same way, Trade Only was intended to be a mirror where the industry could see itself, warts and all. The original June 1979 issue has all the classic stories that defined the magazine: a cover story on a boatbuilder that couldn’t make it past the gas crisis because it had diversified outside its core business; Volvo Penta announcing the last of its outboards; and the merger of two industry groups to become NMMA.

Across the top are the faces of dealers, boatbuilders and engine manufacturers — the faces the magazine has always recognized as the heart and soul of our industry.

The title has evolved over the last four decades, but the goal remains the same: solid reporting on news, economic trends, lawsuits, weather disruptions, bankruptcies and, these days, tariffs, and mergers and acquisitions. On our 40th anniversary, news is still our mission.

You’ve probably noticed the magazine’s recent redesign. As an industry friend, not sure if she likes it or not, said: “It’s different.” Beyond the updated look, my goal as editor is to keep the same levels of reporting, but add infographics and shorter pieces while opening up the pages to sections of the industry that don’t often receive coverage. I want to provide more voices and opinions so we’re not hearing from the same people all the time. I also want our focus to be more international, without taking the spotlight off the U.S. industry. In other words, broaden the editorial content without losing what has been special about Trade Only for the last 40 years.

Looking at 2019, our annual “crystal ball” issue gives an overview of how companies see the coming year. Our 29 industry experts are optimistic about 2019, though most recognize that our eight years of growth will likely slow toward the end of this year. But the consensus also includes positive momentum from the last five years.

Michael Verdon

Michael Verdon

“Even if boat sales are flat or down slightly in 2019, our industry will still thrive,” writes Jack Ellis, founder of Info-Link. “From 2014 through 2018, we added almost 1.3 million new boats to the U.S. recreational fleet, resulting in the largest late-model-year fleet in over a decade. The bottom-line contribution to our industry is greater today because we effectively swapped out 1.3 million old boats for 1.3 million new boats, most of which require more costly maintenance, equipment, storage, insurance and, in some cases, repower.”

So even if we do see a flat-line in new-boat sales at the end of this year, the industry will be fine as we wait for growth to resume in 2020.

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue.

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