Why Does AutoSpeed Run Some Recycled Content?

Posted on September 9th, 2008 in AutoSpeed,Opinion by Julian Edgar

One of the most strongly expressed negative comments in the new Feedback facility is a dislike of repeated material. As you’d expect, it’s a comment made primarily by longstanding readers.


Each week in AutoSpeed we run three repeat articles, highlighting those that were first published between 4 and 10 years ago. These are usually technical articles and are picked on the basis that their content still has a lot to offer current readers – that is, their age is of little hindrance to their worth.


Here is a comment typical of those that express dislike of repeated material:


Recycled articles are unwanted in the extreme. Your time would be better spent on an article teaching readers how to use the search function so that they can read any number of previously published articles. Recycled articles have reduced your credibility for me.


So why do we do it?


When I contributed articles to a monthly photography magazine, some 25 or more years ago, I can remember the editor telling me that there was a need to re-run topics every four years or so. His research showed that a four-year time-frame was about right, otherwise new readers missed out on topics like the basics of shutters speeds and apertures, or composition.


Much the same approach is taken in all enthusiast magazines – fundamentally repeating certain material on a four or five year basis.


When we started AutoSpeed, I can well remember thinking that we’d never have to take this approach – since all the material would remain accessible, there’d be no need to run these same old topics again and again, just so that new readers would get up to, er ‘speed’.


For reasons that should be obvious, for the first four or five years of publication, that was the case – readers tended to be aware of previous material and so new material could extend those concepts, rather than going back over it.


Then, at about this time, I realised that new articles that covered certain topics rated very well.


The topics? Boost controls, exhaust modification, intake air modifications. There were some other topics as well, that I am not going to divulge here.  


But why would a story on an exhaust modification rate well, when a previous story covered much the same ground?


Very simple – most current readers hadn’t read the earlier story.


So here’s a test for you. Below is a mix of reader ratings (ie feedback scores out of five) for recent stories. Some are recycled stories, some are new. From the reader ratings, can you pick the new stories? After all, it would be ‘obvious’ that the new stories would rate much higher, wouldn’t it?


3.72, 3.82, 4.01, 2.78, 4.19, 4.00, 3.61, 3.36, 3.71, 3.93, 3,29, 3.92, 3.77, 3.91, 3.05, 3.56, 3.39, 3.25, 3.43, 3.44, 3.69, 3.78, 3.24.


So which of these are repeated content are which of these are new? Make your picks now!


OK, now I’ll now put an asterisk next to the ‘recycled’ stuff.


3.72, 3.82, 4.01, 2.78, 4.19, 4.00, 3.61, 3.36, 3.71, 3.93*, 3,29*, 3.92, 3.77, 3.91*, 3.05*, 3.56*, 3.39*, 3.25*, 3.43*, 3.44*, 3.69, 3.78, 3.24*.


The highest ‘new’ content rating is 4.01; the highest ‘recycled’ rating is 3.93.


The lowest ‘new’ content rating is 2.78; the lowest ‘recycled’ rating is 3.05.


There is simply not a pattern where recycled stuff rates lower.


The number of reader ratings for each of these articles is also completely non-indicative of whether it is a recycled article or not.


So what can I say?


My job is to present interesting material to readers, and reader reaction clearly shows that they like recycled material as much as they like new stuff! This is almost certainly because most readers haven’t seen the recycled material before, and of course that this material remains of good quality.


To be completely blunt, I don’t see a lot of point in writing a brand new article on a topic that has changed almost zero since the first story was written.


Today, I picked out to run again these ‘recycled’ articles:


  • Metal polishing
  • Making an oil/air separator
  • 3-part series on understanding engine knock
  • The stupidity of a PC fan powered “supercharger”
  • The Mercedes record breakers of the 1930s

I think all are good topics; I think all are good articles – and I think absolutely zero would be achieved in writing 2008 versions.


I also chose not to run recycled articles on selecting an aftermarket engine management system, a ‘drive’ story on taking an Alfa Spider to the centre of Australia, and quite a few others – those, I thought were no longer good value for new readers.  


To again be completely honest, I think that readers complaining about recycled stories are missing the wood for the trees. I read every ‘recycled’ story before selecting it; it’s seldom (if ever) that I don’t find it interesting and (re)learn something.


In just the same way that – when I used to read paper magazines – I’d enjoyably read back issues, I really can’t see any problem in re-running material that in a current context is still well written and photographed, and is still of current interest.


And obviously most readers agree with me.


I don’t wish to be dismissive of longstanding readers who are passionate in their beliefs. But part of my job is to make AutoSpeed attractive to readers, and those articles I choose to recycle are clearly just that.  

13 Responses to 'Why Does AutoSpeed Run Some Recycled Content?'

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  1. Stephen said,

    on September 9th, 2008 at 10:52 am

    I think steady as she goes Julian. I’ve been reading autospeed for some time now, and I like the fact you recycle articles.
    With the masses of content now available from here, it’s quite easy to forget about older articles.
    Especially with the sort of content that you are recycling, most of the techniques involved haven’t changed in a long time. Although I really liked the story about the Alfa Spider!

  2. doctorpat said,

    on September 9th, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    While I have no complaints about the recycling in general, some of the recycled stories need an addendum, to update one or two points, or to point to some new resources on the subject.

    Naturally, right now I can’t think of any examples…

    Actually the only example I can think of is not a recycled story at all, (still old though). The story on the Chrysler Muscle cars could have done with a sidebar comparing their actual times to that of a modern equivalent (not that good actually) and maybe comparing gross horsepower to net (take off about 25% if the examples I can think of are anything to go by.)

  3. Tom said,

    on September 9th, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    I’m a long time AutoSpeed subscriber and reader, Julian, and I’m all for whatever you are doing with the “magazine”. Hell I was happy to pay for the thing after all.

    I could go back and try to find articles I find interesting, but I’m lazy and I like that you are going over older stuff and picking out the good ones for me and presenting them on the front page of AutoSpeed for my (re)consumption without me having to have to do anything.

    Keep up the good work.

    P.S. I’m not being sarcastic, either. I just proof-read my comment and thought it sounded a bit sarcastic which was not my intent.

  4. Martin said,

    on September 9th, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Julian, I believe you’ve previously said that all recycled articles are clearly marked as being recycled (ie, with a sub-title saying “first published xxx”).
    However, that’s not always the case – for example, the “Spring Ding – Picking the right springs for your car’s suspension” article published this week was first published in March 1999, yet the re-published version this week doesn’t have anything to indicate it’s a recycled article.
    This isn’t the first time this has occurred – I’ve recognised a number of other articles that have been re-published, yet do not have anything to indicate they are recycled.

  5. Henri said,

    on September 10th, 2008 at 5:11 am

    Julian, I’m a relative newcomer to autospeed and I really like and appreciate your reruns. The technical quality of your earlier work is much higher than US (sell it/sell something) periodical work of the same time period. Also appreciate the links at the aft end of the articles wherein you offer us other previously run articles we might not otherwise know of. As a specific example, the recent link to your very good article on the Bluebird. Enjoying your workshop series and using your comments in a similar project in Minnesota, US.

  6. Julian Edgar said,

    on September 10th, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Martin, I have nver said that all recycled articles are marked as such. What I have said is that where it is important that readers know that the article has been published before (eg because contacts might have changed, etc) I mark it as such. Where I don’t think it is relevent, I don’t bother marking it.

    Incidentally, with our new weekly publishing format, the ‘recycled’ material is always listed as the last articles (excluding Response which always goes at the very end).

  7. Marty said,

    on September 10th, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    OK – I must have mis-interpreted your comments about the recycled articles.
    (BTW, I subscribed for updates to comments on this post, but haven’t received any emails to indicate the new comments….is there a known problem with this email notification?)

  8. doctorpat said,

    on September 10th, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Hey yeah,
    I’m not getting new comment emails from this thread either.
    Something’s up.

  9. Ben G said,

    on September 11th, 2008 at 3:33 am

    Comparing the reader ratings for new vs recycled articles, the mean of 13 ratings for the new articles is 3.72 and the mean of the 10 ratings for recycled articles is 3.45. This gives a statistical t-test result of 0.05, indicating that there is only a 5% probability these two groups of ratings belong to the same population. In other words, the newer articles are more popular than the recycled articles by a statistically-significant amount.

  10. Ben said,

    on September 11th, 2008 at 6:28 am

    I fail to see how you can figure out who read the articles based on their votes… All you need is a few people giving the article a low score because they know it’s recycled and there’s your difference in scores. The same readers would be reading them, but the scores depend (slightly) on the older reader recognising the article from a few years ago and being bitter about it.

    Personally I ike the old articles. Until Julian mentioned it, I didn’t know autospeed had already done articles on oil-air separators. I would have missed out on that article completely. And having a virtually identical engine bay to a Liberty RS (one of the cars in the articles) I would have had to re-learn what has already been done and published.

  11. Lance Shiells said,

    on September 16th, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I luv your recycled info….please keep it up.

  12. Andrew said,

    on October 29th, 2008 at 8:10 am

    I Don’t mind the Recycled content too much, but would it be too much to ask to have new articles have some kind of ‘New’ tag on the title?
    When im just having a quick flick through in my lunch break it kind of sucks to have to read the beginning of each article and try and work out if i have read it already (have been reading everything since 2002)

  13. Julian Edgar said,

    on October 29th, 2008 at 8:49 am

    Each week, the new articles are those that appear first on the home page.