The Tragic Demise of Greek Buff Books

Alex Kambas
by Alex Kambas
the tragic demise of greek buff books

I once read that a successful PR department is one that has managed to make the press an extension of its own. As bad as this idea may sound for an independent-minded consumer, I couldn’t help thinking that it now works the other way around. With the Internet obliterating buff books’ editorial relevance, many magazines have shifted their sales focus from their readers, the traditional customers, to the PR departments of the companies whose ad bucks support their survival. In this respect Greek car magazines are hugely successful.

In the last 15 years, Greece went from one car title to almost ten; including franchises of foreign titles (Car, Car and Driver, Auto Motor und Sport, Autocar, Autobild and Top Gear.). Arguably, most of these new car magazines were created by publishing companies for the sole purpose of soaking-up new product advertising. From ’91 to ’02, car sales in Greece tripled. As did the car importers’ ad budgets. This car ad-fuelled hothouse was short-lived. As the Internet ascended, circulation numbers fell, from tens of thousands of copies monthly, to just a few thousand. Selling ads soon became more important than selling magazines; the business plan had no room to accommodate reader demands. The basic concept of a car magazine “providing information while entertaining” went out the window faster than Protestants in Prague.

In the past five years, the Greek new car market has achieved European-levels of saturation. Importers’ ad budgets hit the ceiling and bounced back, decreasing year on year. With less pie left to slice, with pistonheads migrating to electronic info sources in droves, car magazines quickly figured out the fastest (if not only) way to keep the ad bucks flowing: inflate reader circulation numbers. In Greece, there’s no official circulation watchdog. So the car magazines were free to claim an absurdly large, loyal following. [NB: Τhe only limit was/is taxation; magazines pay tax based on how many copies they “sell.”] And so they did.

Depending on a business plan based on greed, editorial prostitution and fraud has turned the vast majority of Greek car magazines into nothing more than a monthly new car catalog. Looking at it from the readers’ perspective, the buff books are filled with pages of glossy shots of cars that look little different from the ads subsidizing their dissemination. There is literally no significant demarcation between the magazine’s copy and a carmaker’s sales brochure or press kit. Editorial quality is completely beside the point.

Content has hit rock bottom so hard that franchised titles are having trouble holding on to their brand identity. Browsing a magazine with its title covered provides no clue as to which publisher’s product your perusing. The word “production” nowadays describes operations starting with the layout and ending with printing.

No wonder there are no big names in Greek automotive journalism. Greek (ex) rally drivers (as in Luxembourgian policemen) with no talent– just “fame”– provide little more than bylines. Clearly, they can’t (or won’t) tell an editorial from an advertorial, a test from a ride. Corporate and editorial is so interconnected that a parade of editorial directors or editors-in-chief are meeting one car exec after the other, seeking to establish a “spirit of cooperation.” During one such a meeting, I heard the words “you give us the car and we will make it a god.” This was a British franchise of a well-known magazine title.

When Greek car magazines were specialized, focused, technical, knowledgeable and decent, imitation was impossible. As soon as they sold their souls and became generic, vague, tedious, clueless and blunt, they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. The laws of evolution tell us that saturation in a segment opens the door to fragmentation. In other words, familiarity breeds contempt.

Bigger publishers, with more publications (including first-rate newspapers) now offer better advertisement deals for car importers. Auto-related editorial is showing up as special sections in media with hundreds of thousands of daily readers, of all sexes, ages, and classes. They offer the same level of “journalism” at a lower price for advertisers, with a huge and more honestly calculated number of readers. At least ten such publications have appeared in the last three years, bulldozing car magazines.

And yet the buff books still can’t wake-up and smell the coffee. They’re still looking for more ads, not more readers. They continue to view the Internet as a sidekick to the print issues or an extra source of advertising space, rather than an opportunity to sharpen their coverage.

Up to this point, no Greek car magazine has gone out of business. But it’s only a matter of time before they start landing on their backs. Like Detroit’s long decline, the Greek car magazines’ slide into obscurity is a sad but inevitable result of their failure to stay true to their customers’ needs with integrity, passion and long-term wisdom. I await their reinvention.

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  • Alex Kambas Alex Kambas on Mar 06, 2008

    Autobild launched in the Greek market in October as the weekly sibling to the oldest car magazine, a local title named 4Wheels (no relevence to the italina Quattroruote). It's mainly a car-shoppers guide, the kind that seems to be most succesfull recently as it is directly linked to purchase decisions, which translates to larger influnce in the car market and hence attracts more attention from the importers. Given the "nobody actually reads anything" moto that weekly magazines go by, it's extremely superficial and shallow. It's new (i.e. "hot") and could easy bring in some numbers. Too bad you can't trust what the publisher actually claims, so who knows.

  • Voice of Sweden Voice of Sweden on Mar 10, 2008

    Let me paint the Swedish picture. Teknikens Värld and Auto Motor & Sport (swedish edition with mostly swedish material) are the traditional big car magazines. I think they've done OK, both beeing early into WWW and for example driving ad revenue on their site with free car reviews from the papers etc.. They usually publish all content from the magazine on WWW but with some days delay to drive up magazine sales. Then there are the more specialized magazines for 4WD, old american cars, modifications and spoilers, trucks, etc.. But the real new star is the reborn automobil magazine. In recent years they've created a very readable mix of product news, nostalgia, product reviews and "car stories" - fictional or real. One of the best recent stories is about when a man decides to buy a BMW 535M in the 1980s. Or the one on a early Porsche Turbo bought and driven on "The Ring" by a photographer who knew to Ronnie Pettersson. The car reviewing is highly scientific, example: done by a vehicle dynamics Ph.D.-student. One thing that he discovers is that Ferrari probably has overstated the top speed, Vmax, of the FERRARI F430. Ferrari have calculated it (not driven it) which is "industry standard", and probably made some mistakes doing that. Letters to and from Ferrari (some in english because italian != swedish, jump down some pages and you'll find it) and calculations here: The text is very interesting. Did you know that tire radius expansion at high speed, is almost totally neutralized by tire slip and downforce? Background: You can read some of the articles at the magazines website here: The magazine sells more and more, and now you can find them in almost any store selling magazines. This proves that you still can sell magazines if you deliver a good enough product.

  • Dave M. I think I last listened to AM after 9/11, but the talk radio cesspool took its toll on my mental health. Prior to that I last listened to AM in the '70s....I'm a 20-year XM subscriber; Apple Music also has me in its grip. For traffic conditions I use Waze, which I've found to be highly reliable.
  • Art Vandelay Install shortwave so I can get numbers stations
  • THX1136 Radio World has been talking about this for a few years now. The public perception of AM has done much to malign it. As some have pointed out, there are parts of the country that work well with AM, especially when considering range. Yes indeed, there are options. To me that's what this is more about. The circuitry for AM is probably all on one chip now - or close to it. It cannot be a matter of cost - even at the inflated manufacturer asking price. Making what appears to be an arbitrary decision and reducing choice seems unwise in the area of radio in vehicles.Some have commented that they never listen to AM 'so I'm not missing it'. I'm guessing that many folks don't use ALL the features their many devices offer. Yet, they are still there for those occasions when one wants to avail themselves. Bottom line for me is it should still be an available option for the folks out there that, for whatever reason, want to access AM radio. Side note: Top 40 radio on AM was where all the music I listened to as a youth (55 years ago) came from, there were few (if any) FM stations at that time that carried the format. FM was mostly classical and talk and wasn't ubiquitously available in a portable form - AM was. FYI, the last I knew all stations - AM & FM - still have to have an EAS system as part of their broadcast chain. It's tested by the FCC at least once a year and all stations must be able to pass along the alert messages or face action from the FCC to correct the situation.
  • Robert I don't know why they don't use a knob for the gear shifter on the console like in the Ford Fusion. Takes up a lot less space than a shifter on the console and looks a lot better than a stalk on the steering column.
  • David S. "Stellantis" a woke company showing off evil ICE trucks!?! Bernie Sanders is having a stroke!!