Photographers Become Publishers: Manual For Speed

By Conor Risch

© Manual For Speed
A Manual For Speed image from the 2013 Giro D’Italia. MFS’s daily coverage of the race of pivotal in the cycling journal’s growth and its standing with its sponsor, Castelli.

For some photographers, the only way to execute an idea without compromise is to publish it on their own. Whether creating print or digital publications, calling them quarterlies or magazines or even “manuals,” photographers-turned-publishers have pursued projects that they felt nobody else could make, building communities and brands around publications that have led to related work and no small amount of personal and creative satisfaction. As Daniel Wakefield Pasley, one of the founders of cycling journal Manual For Speed, points out, “No one is going to pay you or give you the space to do it right, so if you have this aim to do it right, then you basically have to be a publisher.” 

PDN recently spoke with the founders of three publications with different goals, subjects, audiences and business models—to find out why and how they became publishers and what they’ve learned about developing engaging content, reaching readers and collaborating with sponsors and advertisers. Below is the first part of this three-part series, which originally appeared in the August issue of PDN.

Daniel Wakefield Pasley and Emiliano Granado were in Italy, attempting to cover the month-long Giro D’Italia cycling race, when something clicked. The pair were more than two years into publishing Manual For Speed (MFS), their web-based journal chronicling professional cycling from an insider’s perspective. They’d experienced modest success in traffic and had a sponsor in Castelli, a cycling apparel company, when the cycling team with which they’d been embedded disbanded for lack of funds. Wakefield Pasley and Granado were essentially on their own, trying to create a behind-the-scenes story without access to a cycling team. “We didn’t have a move,” Granado recalls. 

Their “last-ditch effort,” Wakefield Pasley says, was to go to the biggest event they could, the Giro, and tell readers “exactly what it’s like to be at a race.” Wakefield Pasley, who writes their reports in addition to photographing races, rated the espressos they drank and the hotels they stayed in. He wrote about the music that played in their rental car and their run-ins with various race officials and law enforcement. He wrote about the crowds and the culture surrounding the race. The writing and photographs are compelling and odd and funny. Since the Giro, people have come to know MFS as “gonzo journalism for cycling.” “We weren’t consciously like, ‘We’re just going to go gonzo on this,’ but I guess that’s what we did,” Granado says. 

During the Giro, they also grabbed attention by publishing stories every single night. Previously when they’d covered a race, it would be weeks before they published their reports. Daily publishing added a timeliness to their coverage that allowed people to follow the race via MFS rather than, or in addition to, the mainstream press. Their site traffic spiked, and their sponsor, Castelli, took note. 

Castelli is an Italian company. The sponsorship of MFS is an initiative of their U.S. distributor. But suddenly “the people at Castelli in Italy wanted to talk to us, and they wanted to figure out: Is MFS a global Castelli project or is it a U.S. Castelli project?” Wakefield Pasley says. 

“There was a clear-cut before Christ/after death moment, and it was the Giro D’Italia,” Granado adds. 

Since then, the attention has grown steadily. Granado and Wakefield Pasley had courted the Garmin cycling team, also sponsored by Castelli, for a couple of years, but were kept at arm’s length at least partly because of their irreverent style. This past spring, however, when MFS was covering the Pais Vasco race in the Basque region of Spain, one of Garmin’s top riders tweeted that MFS is some of the best cycling journalism he’s read in a long time. Now, their relationship with the Garmin team has solidified and they have insider access to a major team. 

Granado and Wakefield Pasley began MFS because they saw a gap in how cycling is covered. The mainstream press celebrates the few guys who win races, but have no time for the hundreds of other cyclists who are “elite-level athletes and they’re just hanging on” to the sport, Wakefield Pasley says. “Cycling in Europe is glitzy and glammy, and big tour buses and podium girls and Lamborghinis and Italians.” Except for the elite ten athletes, cycling in the United States is a blue-collar sport. “These guys are kind of like rodeo athletes in Spandex, but the rest of the world views cycling as more like racecar driving,” Wakefield Pasley says. 

Rather than pitching individual stories to the cycling press for one-off fees, Wakefield Pasley and Granado decided to pitch a digital cycling journal to Castelli US, giving the company exclusive sponsorship of the site. It was important to have “the ability to check in repeatedly with the same people and have some sort of narrative that plays out over years,” Granado says. “Also from a career point of view, it just makes so much more sense to own your content versus just selling it off to somebody for $200…. If Manual for Speed died today, we’d still be the Manual for Speed guys. We would still be the guys that can bring it in that way, whatever that way is.” 

It’s not lost on Wakefield Pasley and Granado that, at a time when brands are looking more and more to editorial-style content to promote their products, they’ve shown that they are a creative team capable of executing—and promoting—content for a brand. “We can tell those stories and create those stories and produce those stories,” Granado says in a mock-pitch. “Give us money.” 

To make the site sustainable, they say, they will have to continue to refine its business model. This year they launched a project to document a series of American races and were able to bring Clif Bar on as a sponsor for that work. The pair have also landed commercial work because of MFS. And they earn thousands of dollars selling MFS-branded shirts, jerseys and other cycling swag. 

They’ve taken some of what they have learned and applied it to another web-based publishing project, Yonder Journal, which focuses on outdoor adventure and recreation. In July they embarked on a 25-day trip sponsored by Yakima, the car-rack manufacturer, documenting recreation in the American West. They’re hoping the trip will be their Giro moment for Yonder Journal.

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