Thursday, December 11, 2014
There are many examples of the benefits of working in harmony with nature. When first venturing out beyond home a child is taught to walk with traffic. A carpenter achieves a cleaner result by going with the grain rather than against it. In sports a team succeeds by taking advantage of what the defence gives them, and there are countless other examples that express why it is better to work with the flow rather than push against it. For the past ten years the recorded music industry has ignored this strategy, and stubbornly clung to a business model that is no longer in harmony with they way people consume music by predominantly releasing albums in a single song economy.
According to Nielsen Soundscan, in 2011 there were 1.374 billion digital transactions last year. Of those only 103 million or 7.5 % were for albums. This means that approximately 1 out of 14 times a consumer went to buy music online last year they were purchased an album. First with Napster and MP3s, then iTunes and the iPod, and now with streaming services like Spotify and Turntable.fm–the music consumer has repeatedly demonstrated that they prefer single songs to albums. Despite this fact, nearly 77,000 albums were released last year.
Rather than change strategy to work with this reality, most people in the industry just complained that it wasn't fair, and continued the status quo. I believe there are several reasons for this. The first reason is that labels believe they can make more money selling albums. The second, is that marketing and sales processes were built for the album system and that makes it difficult to change. The last reason is because artists believe they are supposed to make albums either as a musical statement or as validation of their professional status.
This essay will attempt to prove that all three of those reasons are not necessarily true, and that selling single songs can be better promotionally, artistically and financially for artists and labels.
Layout of the Song Based Release Strategy
There are three key rules to the successful execution of the song based release strategy.
- Every song is given a reasonable amount of time to stand on its own.
- Every song receives its own unique marketing plan.
- No song is available before it is promoted.
After that there are limitless ways to release the music. An artist can release a song every week, every month, every day, or every third Monday. It doesn't even have to be uniform. It really doesn't matter how the music is released, as long as the philosophy that every song is important in its own way is embraced.
Why this strategy works promotionally
Not only do consumers prefer music in a single format, but the outlets for music promotion are all focused on single songs as well. Some of these formats are:
Radio: The bread and butter of radio is singles. Album Oriented Radio died when radio started hiring consultants in the 1970’s.
Blogs: Blog posts are usually about one or two songs. The biggest aggregator of blogs, The Hype Machine, focuses on songs instead of albums.
Club Promotion: By definition the DJ at a club or bar will provide a steady mix of songs. It is quite the rarity to hear a whole album played in a club with the exception of a listening party.
Synchs for Commercials and TV: For reasons of time, cost, and artistic expression, individual songs are usually featured as synchs rather than albums.
Music Videos: Music videos are primarily made for one song. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between.
The two promotional avenues that focus on the whole album are preview streams, which have the drawback of lasting for only one or two weeks, and album reviews. Album reviews have come to mean less and less each year as newspapers and magazines cut space and syndicated their copy. They have also lost their main purpose of previewing an album when consumers can decide for themselves whether they like an artists on streaming sites. The editor in chief of Spin Magazine recently cited that exact sentiment as justification for why Spin would be relegating the majority of their album reviews to 140-character tweets.
In addition to working in harmony with the promotion outlets currently available for music, there are several other benefits of the song-based release strategy in terms of marketing.
The first is always having new assets to promote to the media. One thing that occurred because of the digital age is content has a much shorter shelf life. The Internet is a voracious beast and is always hungry for more content. Importance is placed on newness and exclusivity. In a song-based system there is always something new to engage the media. If an album of songs is released you lose that newness factor when pitching for placement.
The second is that it creates a platform to consistently engage fans. In the current media landscape, attention is the most valuable commodity. By consistently releasing new material, an artist has an opportunity to engage their fans much more often than the year or more that commonly occurs between album releases.
The third is that it gives consumers a chance to know what they are buying. This eliminates the feeling of betrayal or trickery when buying an album based on a single song and finding out the rest of the songs are either poor quality or just not their cup of tea. The best analogy I can use to explain this is the DVD compilation release of a TV show. Fans buy a DVD of a show after having seen the complete season. If DVDs of television series were marketed the way music albums were, a 12-episode season would have one show picked to be played on television repeatedly in the hopes that it would drive people to retail stores to purchase the whole series DVD. It is not an exact comparison, because of the variety of differences in how the two are monetized, but I still think it illustrates how bizarre the current album-marketing paradigm is.
Why this strategy works artistically
First, I want to be clear that this method doesn't mean that an artist can’t create a full album of songs, or even a concept album. It only changes the order and format in which it is released. This results in the album not being fully experienced until all the songs are released and collected by a fan. The baseline question that needs to be confronted when evaluating this method is “Is it absolutely necessary that the first time a fan hears my album is in its entirety?” If the answer is no, then a song based strategy can work artistically.
After that hurdle is cleared — and there should be very few bands that should answer the above question with a yes — there are several reasons why this method can lead to better artistic expression. First it forces artists to step up their game. This method puts every song on a pedestal or under a microscope. The temptation to phone it in on an “album track” is eliminated. It might be a little hyperbolic but I hope that it could usher in a new golden age of songwriting.
The next advantage is release flexibility and the opportunity to be timely. Presently, there are a number of obstacles to releasing a song about current events in the middle of an album cycle. No matter how relevant or great the song is, there is a tendency to not put full promotion behind it, because the song will not drive album sales. With the song based method there is greater flexibility to interrupt the release schedule with a timely or important song, because there is less financial disincentive.
The last advantage is counter-intuitive in that it allows great albums to stand out. The true concept albums become something worth noting. If song based release strategy becomes the dominant model, and some group has another Sgt. Pepper or The Wall in them, then it will stand out. If they don’t, and have just another average album, then they will have given up their shot at sustained revenue.
Why this strategy works financially
This leads to the most important questions for whoever has invested in the music. Is the sustained revenue of singles equal to or greater than the lump sum of album shipments and sales? In terms of pure revenue from recorded music there is a relatively simple equation to determine how many singles an artist would need to sell to equal the money generated from the current combination of album shipments and individual track sales. This is:
(Album $ + Track $ ) / # Tracks ) /Single Wholesale = Average Sales Per Track)
Using hypothetical sales figures it would look like this:
Traditional album release A
50,000 albums x $6.50 wholesale = $325,000
200,000 tracks x $.70 wholesale = $140,000
($325,000 + $140,000 ) /10 ) /$.70 = 66,428 average sales per track
Traditional album release B
1000 albums x $6.50 wholesale cost = $6,500
13,000 tracks x. $70 wholesale cost = $9,100
($6,500 + $9,100) / 12) /$.70 = 1,857 average sales per track
After doing this initial equation for either previous or projected album sales the next step is to look at how the track sales were divided on previous releases to determine the possibility of meeting or exceeding the target average sales per track. As this is a subjective process there is no exact mathematical formula that will work every time, but I have two formulas that will give a rough idea of how a release will fare with this strategy.
(Sales of the promoted singles + average of all other singles) / promoted singles + 1
If that number is greater than the average sales per track needed, then a singles based release strategy is probably a safe bet.
Formula 2 (which is really not a formula and only for veteran artists)
Average first two week albums sales = core audience.
If the average of first two weeks of all an artist’s album sales is greater than the average sales per track needed then a singles based release strategy is likely worth pursuing. This method does not work for artists with one album that experienced great success after a slow build ala Mumford and Sons.
If, after running the numbers, it is still not clear what release strategy is best, there are two other financial incentives to the song based release strategy to consider. First it eliminates the phenomenon of putting all your eggs in one basket and in turn spreads out risk when developing an artist. In this case the basket is the single.
There is nothing worse than the process of picking a single. In my experience it is usually a bunch of music executives sitting in a conference room listening to two or three tracks with their most intense faces, maybe with a couple of head bobs to let you know that they really feel the music. It is very funny to watch people try to indicate that their sense of hearing is working.
Then comes the debate. There is a discussion of what is currently on the radio and how the potential songs fits in with rest of the music landscape. There is sometimes research brought in to show what test audiences have thought of the songs. After that it is gut feel and a bit of magic to reach consensus and a single is picked. That is it. A half hour in a conference room determines the trajectory of an entire album campaign in both focus and budget allocation.
If that single doesn’t work it doesn’t matter how many people would have liked the other songs the artist created: they will never get exposure, because of a lack of marketing funds. The majority of the budget was devoted to creating awareness for that one single, and this does not seem like a very efficient use of resources.
The second benefit is for business arrangements where there are income streams that are not directly related to recorded music, namely touring. One of the big issues that bands have is making sure there is something new to promote around a tour. Song-based release strategy makes it possible to always have something new for fans and to either be considered for tour packages or have a story for promoters. By spreading out the release of new material, the artist will increase the demand for their other revenue streams.
The last benefit is better management of manufacturing expenditures. For labels, one of the toughest costs to predict is the amount of physical albums to manufacture and ship. For developing artists, manufacturing their first run of CDs will usually cost several thousand dollars. The song-based release strategy helps determine what the demand is for the project and consequently physical product.
This article shows that a song based release strategy has promotional and artistic benefits, and that it is feasible financially. There are many factors for why certain artists or albums succeed and others fail. The release strategy is just one of those factors and will never be fully responsible for either the success or failure of an artist. There will be times when it won’t work out, but the album release system doesn’t always work either. Nothing works all the time, and nothing is the perfect solution for every situation. The premise was that it can work, and I believe this shows how it can. Of course, this can never truly be proven until artists and labels take the plunge and start releasing their music as individual songs. I hope they take that chance.
Common arguments against this theory and my responses
When writing this essay I floated the concept out to many people both in and out of the music industry. I received several common responses:
1. This will never make enough money if music moves to streaming as a dominant listening habit: If streaming makes no money, then whether music is released as an album or as individual songs will be irrelevant. At that point other revenue streams become more important, and I would argue that the ancillary benefits of always having something new to promote and to engage an artists fans still makes the song based release strategy the more attractive option.
2. It is easier to record as an album: Agreed, but his strategy does not preclude an artist from recording a whole album at once, which I know is a much more efficient and cost effective way of creating music. It is focused on how that music is released after it is recorded.
2a. But what if all the tracks leak?: This is definitely the weak point of the strategy. A leak is much more detrimental to song based released system as it effectively destroys the advantages of letting each song stand on its own, and the newness quality when promoting. The only counter I have is that music most commonly leaks when it is submitted for manufacturing. As manufacturing is delayed or eliminated in this model, perhaps it would curtail the practice of music leaks. I am not certain of that though, and it is a risk.
3. This would kill record stores: There are many factors at work in the decline of physical music retail. Song based release strategy is meant to work in harmony with the existing trends, it did not initiate them. The one positive is that after a little while record stores would have a lot more data available to gauge demand. There are many instances of something that was available online first finding a successful second life in music retail for latecomers to the band. Radiohead’s album, In Rainbows, is the best example. After the pay what you want experiment the band released it in stores and still had a #1 album. This method could ensure that only the albums with the most demand are in stores eliminating the phenomenon of shipping platinum and returning gold.
4. This won’t work if you want to go to radio: The question that needs to be answered here is whether the network effects of radio play of one or two songs will result in enough artist affinity to drive sales of the non-radio singles. When coupled with the other promotional methods for those songs, I think they will. The other possible benefit of this method would be that radio might go back to playing a diverse group of songs, as singles will no longer be dictated to them. Every song is promoted, and radio can once act as a filter instead of a megaphone.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Harley-Davidson, Inc. is the parent company of Harley-Davidson Motor Company,
Buell Motorcycle Company and Harley-Davidson Financial Services. Harley-Davidson
Motor Company produces heavyweight motorcycles and offers a complete line of
motorcycle parts, accessories, apparel, and general merchandise. Buell
Motorcycle Company produces a line of sport motorcycles.
1870 Birth of William A. Davidson, Milwaukee, WI.
1876 Birth of Walter Davidson, Milwaukee, WI.
1880 Birth of William S. Harley, Milwaukee, WI. As he was born just after
Christmas, his parents gave him the middle name “Sylvester.”
1881 Birth of Arthur Davidson, Milwaukee, WI.
1901 William S. Harley, aged 21, completes a blueprint for an engine designed
to fit into a bicycle.
1903 Harley and Arthur Davidson build the first production Harley-Davidson in
1903. It features a 3-1/8-inch bore and a 3-1/2-inch stroke yielding 7.07 cubic
inches (116cc). They make a more powerful motor with the assistance of Ole
Evinrude – better known as the inventor of the outboard motor. It is designed
for use on the wooden velodromes where popular bicycle races are held.
Harley and Davidson work in a 10 x 15-foot shed on Chestnut Street (later
renamed Juneau Avenue) which is still the address of Harley-Davidson’s head
1904 The first Harley-Davidson dealer, C.H. Lang of Chicago, opens for
1906 A new 28 by 80-foot factory is built on Chestnut Street. The company has
grown to have six employees. It produces its first catalogue, and coins the
nickname “Silent Gray Fellows.” It’s a reference to the fact that the bikes were
painted dove grey, and that they were quietly reliable. (Evidently, the
company’s founders were unaware that loud pipes save lives.)
1907 William A. Davidson joins the firm. Harley-Davidson Motor Company is
incorporated, with stock shared by the Harley and the three Davidson brothers.
1908 Walter Davidson scores a perfect 1,000 points at the 7th Annual
Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability Contest. Three
days after the contest, Walter sets the FAM economy record at 188.234 miles
per gallon. Perhaps impressed with that reliability, Detroit becomes the first city
to buy a H-D motorcycle for police use.
1909 “The Motor Company” makes its first V-Twin. It has a displacement of
49.5 cubic inches and produces seven horsepower.
1910 The ‘Bar & Shield’ logo is used for the first time in 1910 and was
trademarked one year later.
1911 The ‘F-head’ single-cylinder engine is introduced and will remain in use
until 1929. (This is not a reference to “Hey, f-head!” it’s a reference to the
shape of the valve ports.) It is an inlet-over-exhaust design, with an overhead
intake valve (in the head like a modern motor) but a “side” exhaust valve which
is in the cylinder.
1912 Harley-Davidson begins exporting motorcycles to Japan. Construction
begins on a six-storey headquarters. The Parts and Accessories Dept. is
The company has more than 200 dealers across America.
1913 The Racing Department is formed, under the control of Bill Harley.
1914 Side-cars are made available. Some models are briefly available with a
two-speed transmission in the rear hub. Also, belts go out of fashion – for the
moment. Harley-Davidson is one of the last motorcycle manufacturers to
switch from leather drive belts to chains. The leather belts slipped, stretched
and rotted, so chains are a big improvement.
1915 H-D motorcycles become available with three-speed sliding-gear
transmissions with final and primary drive on the same side.
1916 The Enthusiast magazine is published for the first time.
1917 About a third of the company’s production is purchased by the Army. To
train Army mechanics, the company starts the Quartermasters School. After the
war, it will be retained as the Service School, providing factory-trained
mechanics for dealers.
1918 Almost half of all H-D motorcycles produced are sold for use by the U.S.
military in World War I. After Armistice is signed, Corporal Roy Holtz becomes
the first American soldier to enter Germany. He does so on a Harley-Davidson
1919 The 37-cubic-inch Sport model is introduced. It’s a horizontally-
opposed, fore-and-aft V-Twin.
1920 Now the largest motorcycle manufacturer, H-D boasts over 2,000 dealers
in 67 countries. The factory racing team, already known as “The Wrecking
Crew” because it’s become so dominant in American racing, has a small pig as
a mascot. The bikes are nicknamed “hogs” as a result.
1925 The company adopts teardrop-shaped gas tanks (previously they were
flat-topped) that give its machines a very distinct look. Joe Petrali becomes
one of the first salaried “factory racers.”
1926 Single-cylinder motorcycles are sold first time since 1918. Models A,
AA, B and BA are available in side-valve and overhead-valve engine
1928 The first two-cam engine is made available on the JD series motorcycles.
The bike can reach a top speed between 85 and 100 mph. Luckily, this year all
H-D models are also available with a brake on the front wheel. Surprisingly few
Harley-Davidson riders use them, even to this day.
1929 The D model is introduced with a rugged, 45-cubic-inch flathead V-Twin
engine. The “Flathead” motor will be sold in various guises for over 40 years.
The stock-market crash heralds the Great Depression. In 1929, the company
sells 21,000 motorcycles. It’s the strongest of the dozens – if not hundreds –
of motorcycle brands that were launched in the first three decades of the
century; only a handful will survive into the fourth.
1932 The three-wheeled Servi-car begins its 41-year run. (Sure they were used
to deliver great corned-beef sandwiches, but they were also used by the guys
who wrote 410,000,000 parking tickets, too.)
In racing, Joe Petrali begins a string of five consecutive national
championships in dirt track, as well as four consecutive hill-climb titles. (In
those years, the championship was decided in a single race.)
1933 The company sells only 4,000 motorcycles this year. To reduce costs for
competitors, the AMA creates a new racing class, Class C, based on
production equipment and allowing for limited modifications. Although the
original, prototype-based Class A persists, the AMA emphasizes the new
class. Purists resent the change.
1935 Alfred Child, the company’s agent in Asia, realizes that currency
exchange rates are killing sales in Japan. He convinces the company to license
production of its motorcycles in Japan. The Sankyo Seiyakyo Corporation
purchases tooling and begins producing Harley “clones”. They are sold under
the name Rikuo, which means “King of the Road.”
1936 Introduction of the EL, an overhead valve, 61-cubic-inch-powered bike,
which earns the nickname of ‘Knucklehead’ because of the shape of its rocker-
boxes. The company also introduces an 80-cubic-inch side-valve engine.
1937 Petrali sets a land-speed record of over 136 mph with a streamlined
Knucklehead. The first WL models are produced.
William A. Davidson dies, two days after signing an agreement that makes the
company a union shop.
1938 Ben Campanale wins the Daytona 200 on a 45 cubic-inch WLDR. The race
was run on the 3.2-mile beach course.
The Jackpine Gypsies hold the first Black Hills rally in Sturgis.
1941 United States enters World War II. The production of civilian motorcycles is
almost entirely stopped.
1942 When U.S. soldiers capture their first “Wehrmacht”-issue motorcycles in
North Africa, they find that the BMW's and Zundapps are better suited to tough
military duty. Harley-Davidson and Indian each develop about 1,000 machines
for evaluation, with shaft drives and Flat-Twin motors copied from the Germans.
They are never widely issued, though the machines cost Uncle Sam a
whopping $35,000 each.
Walter Davidson dies.
1943 William S. Harley dies.
1945 The war finally ends. Between 1941-45 the company produced almost 90,000
WLA models for military use.
1946 The 45 cubic-inch, flathead, WR production racer is made. It conforms
to stricter Class C AMA rules, which are intended to reduce costs for
competitors. It’s a flathead, because in Class C, flatheads are allowed to
displace 750cc, while OHV motors are limited to 500cc.
1948 The company’s 61 and 74 c.i. OHV engines are updated with aluminium
heads and hydraulic valve lifters. Also new are the one-piece rocker covers,
which resemble cake pans, earning the motor the nickname ‘Panhead.’
As part of Germany’s war reparations, the Allies loot German patents. The fine,
small two-stroke motors built by DKW (seen in that company’s popular RT125)
are copied by BSA (the Bantam) and Harley-Davidson, which produces the
model S that will come to be known as the Hummer.
1949 Hydraulic front forks make their first appearance on the new Hydra-Glide
1950 Arthur Davidson dies.
1952 Returning servicemen seem to favour the lighter British Twins they saw
"over there.” In response, Harley-Davidson creates the 45 c.i. side-valve K
model. It’s a unit-construction motor – the crankcases and gearbox are one set
1953 Indian goes into its long, painful death throes. H-D, which celebrates
its 50th anniversary this year will be only real motorcycle manufacturer in the
U.S. for the rest of the century.
The ageing WR and WRTT production racers are no match for the British 500s
now invading the dirt tracks (and few road courses) of America. The H-D racing
department counters with a new racer, the KR. Like the WR, it is a 750cc flat-
1955 The new KR begins a run of seven consecutive Daytona 200 victories,
which will include the last race run on the old beach course and first one run
at the new Daytona International Speedway.
1957 The Sportster is introduced. It is basically a larger-displacement
version of the K motor, fitted with an OHV head. At 55 c.i., it offers
performance to rival anything coming out of England (at least, anything coming
out of England without a “Vincent” tank badge.) has a 55 cubic-inch overhead-
1958 Hydraulic rear suspensions appear on the Duo-Glide.
1960 Harley-Davidson acknowledges the market potential of smaller machines.
The company makes its first and only scooter, the Topper. It also purchases a
half-interest in the Italian company Aermacchi, which produces fast and stylish
single-cylinder machines of up to 350cc.
Brad Andres wins the last Daytona 200 run on the sand. 2nd through 13th (no,
not 3rd, 13th) places all go to riders on KRs.
1961 The first Aermacchi design to reach America is the Harley-Davidson
Sprint. Short-track racers are quick to realize that its good power and low
center of gravity make it a winner.
1962 Harley-Davidson acquires the Tomahawk boat company and starts to learn
about the uses of fibreglass.
1964 The humble Servi-Car is the first of the company’s machines to be fitted
with an electric starter.
1965 The Duo-Glide and is fitted with an electric starter, and thus becomes
1966 Riders clamouring for more power cause the company to update the old
The new engine has rocker boxes that resemble coal shovels. Hence, the new
mill gets the nickname “Shovelhead.” This basic motor will remain in production
for 20 years.
1968 After years of increasingly vociferous lobbying, the import manufacturers
convince the AMA rules committee that the 250cc displacement advantage given
to flathead motors is unfair. The AMA declares that, in future, bikes with
overhead valves (all the British and Japanese models) can also displace up to
750cc. Harley-Davidson lobbies to delay the implementation of the new rule for
one more season.
1969 Although Harley-Davidson stock is publicly traded, it is still a relatively closely
held corporation. The shareholders – perhaps sensing that the “Japanese
invasion” is about to open a new front in the heavyweight category, with the
Honda CB750 Four – sell the company to the American Machine and
Foundry Company. AMF has hitherto been known to the American consumer as
a maker of bowling balls, but it is in fact a large, diversified manufacturer.
AMF could have risen to the challenge presented by the sophisticated and
comparatively affordable Honda. Instead, AMF’s managers roll a real gutter-ball.
Harley-Davidson quality plummets. Before long, dealers are forced to rebuild
motors under warranty and magazines are brutally critical of test bikes.
Used Harleys are described as “pre-AMF” in classified ads.
1970 The racing department creates a new production racer, the XR-750. The
motor is basically a destroked Sportster unit. It gets off to an inauspicious
start; none of the factory entries reach the finish in the Daytona 200. The
first Harley across the line is an ancient KRTT, ridden by Walt Fulton III.
1971 By mating the spare front end of the XL series with the frame and motor
of the FL series, the company creates the first cruiser – the FX 1200 Super
1973 A new assembly plant is opened in York, PA.
1977 Although most Harley fans would rather forget the years in which the
company was owned by AMF, there is one AMF-era bike that’s highly sought-
after by collectors: the 1977 XLCR. That “CR” stands for Café Racer and the
bike was only the second major project for Willie G. Davidson (the grandson of
one of the founders.) While the model is prized now, it was rejected by Harley
customers in 1977. Only 3,100 were sold and the model was dropped a year later
although dealers still had unsold XLCRs cluttering their showroom floors well
into the ’80s.The FXS Low Rider is also introduced this year.
1979 The FXEF “Fat Bob” is introduced. It’s called fat because of its dual gas tanks,
and bob on account of its bobbed fenders.
1980 The FLT is introduced. It has rubber-isolated drive train and an engine
and five-speed transmission which are hard bolted together.
Belts come back into fashion: a Kevlar belt replaces the chain as the final
drive on some models.
The FXB Sturgis, featuring an 80 cubic-inch engine, and FXWB Wide Glide are
1981 After years of AMF mismanagement, Harley-Davidson has lost almost all
customer loyalty and profits are in free-fall. When a group of company
executives led by Vaughan Beals offers to buy the division for $75 million, AMF
Beals leads an amazing corporate turnaround. He funds new product
development and implements world-class quality control. It’s impossible to know
what would have happened to the H-D brand if Beals had not risen up to save it,
but it’s certain that no one else could have done a better job at rehabilitating it.
1982 The FXR/FXRS Super Glide II are introduced, featuring a rubber-isolated,
five-speed power train.
The company adopts a just-in-time inventory system on the manufacturing side,
which helps to lower cost and improve quality.
1983 The Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) is formed.
The company petitions the International Trade Commission (a branch of the U.S.
federal government) to impose a tariff on Japanese motorcycles of over 700cc.
As a result, many Japanese motorcycles that are sold as 750cc models in the
rest of the world are sleeved-down to 700cc for the U.S. market.
1984 The 1340cc V2 Evolution engine appears on five models. Although it’s
been in development since the AMF era, the motor proves the newly
independent company has turned the corner in terms of build quality. It is far
more reliable and oil-tight.
The Softail, which features concealed rear suspension and evokes the rigid-
framed hogs of 30 or 40 years ago, meets with commercial success.
1986 Harley-Davidson diversifies with the acquisition of the Holiday Rambler
1987 The company makes its Initial Public Offering. Stock is traded on the
NYSE, with the ticker symbol of HOG. The company petitions the ITC to relax the
tariff on imported motorcycles, a year before it was scheduled to lapse. The
move serves notice that Harley-Davidson is capable of competing on a level
playing field, despite the fact that the Japanese companies now all make V-Twin
cruisers that compete directly with the American offerings.
1988 Exploiting customers’ love of traditional styling, the Springer front end returns on
the FXSTS Springer Softail.
1990 Introduction of the FLSTF Fat Boy.
1991 Introduction of the first motorcycle in the Dyna line, the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis.
1992 Harley-Davidson is the first company to equip all its models (except for
a handful of racing motorcycles) with drive belts. Modern drive belts provide a
smoother ride than chains, last longer, and free riders from the drudgery of
chain lubrication and adjustment.
1993 H-D buys a minority interest in the Buell Motorcycle Company.
1994 The company enters the AMA Superbike Championship, fielding the water-
cooled, DOHC VR1000. AMA rules specified that the company had to also build
and sell 2,000 machines for road use, a process is called “homologation.” So,
you may wonder, why have you never seen a road-going VR1000 if 2000 were
sold? Because the model was homologated in Poland. By selling it there, Harley
avoided U.S. liability and Poland’s lax laws allowed the barely-modified race
bike to be legally licensed.
Despite being ably ridden by Miguel Duhamel, Pascal Picotte, Chris Carr and
Scott Russell, the VR1000 will never win an AMA race.
1995 Harley-Davidsons are equipped with fuel injection for the first time.
1996 Sales of parts and accessories are an increasingly important part of the
business – a fact reflected in the new, 250,000 sq. ft. facility the company
opens in Franklin, WI.
1997 A new 217,000 sq.-ft. design center opens in Milwaukee. FL engine
production moves to a newly purchased plant in Menomonee Falls. A new
330,000 sq. ft. plant in Kansas City takes over the production of Sportsters.
1998 The company opens its first foreign factory in Manaus, Brazil.
The remaining shares of Buell are also acquired.
1999 The Touring and Dyna lines receive the new Twin Cam 88.
2000 Despite spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees in the mid-’90s – and
having initial success in its efforts to trademark the “potato- potato” sound of
Harley motors – the company drops its U.S. Patent Office application. Harley-
Davidson’s vice president of marketing, Joanne Bischmann, tells reporters, “I've
personally spoken with Harley-Davidson owners from around the world and
they've told me repeatedly that there is nothing like the sound of a Harley-
Davidson motorcycle. If our customers know the sound cannot be imitated, that’s
good enough for me and for Harley-Davidson”
2001 The VRSCA V-Rod is introduced. The motor – which was designed with input
from Porsche – is fuel injected, has overhead cams, and liquid cooling.
2003 It is estimated that 250,000 people come to Milwaukee to celebrate The
Motor Company’s 100th anniversary.
2006 Fittingly, the ’06 model-year Dyna motorcycles come with six-speed
transmissions. The company announces a major new museum, scheduled to
open in Milwaukee in 2008.
2007 Harley upgrades its Big Twin motor, stroking it out to 96 cubic inches
and earning the moniker “Twin Cam 96.” The six-speed transmission from the
Dyna line is added across the board.
2008 The Motor Company opens its impressive new museum in time for Harley’s
Purchases MV Agusta for $109 million in an attempt to take advantage of MV’s
European distribution channels. Introduces the XR1200, inspired by the XR750
flat track machine used to win countless championships. The XR1200
represents the first time H-D designed and marketed a motorcycle exclusively for
the European market. Later, after demand from this side of the pond, the
XR1200 is then sold worldwide.
2009 Keith Wandell becomes the first person since 1981 to become CEO of
Harley-Davidson who hadn't had any previous connections to The Motor
Due to the economic recession, Harley-Davidson discontinues the Buell line and
puts up MV Agusta for sale to focus on core business. This after The Motor
Company declared profits dropped 84-percent since the previous year.
Announces plan to enter the rapidly expanding Indian market.
2010 In a throwback to the 883 series, AMA Pro Racing, along with title
sponsor Vance & Hines, debuts the inaugural XR1200 series. Modifications are
limited and place emphasis on rider talent. Danny Eslick wins the championship
in its first year.