Uber has a lot of money. A lot. It's raised nearly $6 billion dollars. It also has a lot of drivers—more than 160,000, at last count—whom it needs to keep happy and harmonious and feeling positive about Uber. So it makes a certain amount of sense that the company is using some of its cash to send feel-good updates to drivers in the form of a print magazine.
Uber's magazine, called Momentum, probably won't win any Pulitzers or ASME awards. The inaugural issue [PDF] carries no bylines (except for that of Uber operations chief Ryan Graves, who writes an introductory note), clocks in at only 15 pages, and isn't exactly comprehensive in its coverage of all the issues Uber is facing as it expands around the globe.
But Momentum isn't meant to be an investigative tour de force. It's a corporate promotional glossy produced by an outside firm called Diablo Custom Publishing, which makes "content marketing" that, according to its website, "inspires." It's aimed at Uber's ever-expanding network of "driver partners." (Note the careful nomenclature—Uber is eager to remind you that its drivers are independent contractors, not employees of the company. In all, the word "partner" appears 77 times in the 15-page spread.)
The cover of Momentum's first issue features an Uber driver looking every bit the seasoned chauffeur with a suit and tie, careful stubble, and Bluetooth earpiece. But the rest of the issue is clearly aimed at people who are new to the world of professional driving.
There's an article containing basichealth tips for drivers. ("A completely sedentary lifestyle can put you at increased risk for heart disease and weight gain," one tip warns.)
There's a section with tips on finding public bathrooms along your route. ("Costco, Safeway, and other large supermarket chains double as great pit stops in any city!")
There are amusing passenger anecdotes from drivers. (All G-rated, of course.)
There's an expert opinion on which model of car is best for Uber driving. (The Toyota Prius and Camry earn top marks.)
There's an explanation of Uber's new "partner loyalty program," which entitles drivers to discounts on things like vehicle maintenance and cell phone plans.
One longtime Uber driver (sorry, partner) is given a two-page Q&A to seed his wisdom from his long years on the road.
There are customer raves about so-called "sixth star" Uber driver partners, who have gone the extra mile for their passengers.
And sprinkled throughout the issue, there are testimonials about how great it is to drive for Uber. ("I get to be a love counselor, chauffeur to the celebrities, and tour guide all at the same time," one driver says.)
It would be easy to see Momentum as a frivolous piece of corporate agitprop. But it's not, really. Read between the lines, and what you see is that Uber, despite its overwhelming success, still worries about its survival. It needs to keep customers happy, of course, which means cutting fares and enforcing strict quality standards among drivers. But it also needs to keep drivers happy, a mission that has sometimes been at odds with customer satisfaction. (And has sometimes resulted in class-action lawsuits, and disgruntled Uber drivers defecting to Lyft and other services.)
Uber hasn't perfected its approach to driver relations yet. But it's come a long way since the days when it set up a second, inferior building in San Francisco to house routine interactions with drivers. Momentum, then, is a subtle acknowledgment of Uber's continued dependence on the people who motor its customers around, even as Uber's "platform-only" model turns them into pure commodities, and self-driving cars threaten to render them obsolete. It's a magazine designed to make driving for Uber feel like joining an exclusive club, rather than signing up to be bossed around by a $40 billion transportation behemoth. And at a time when Uber drivers would be forgiven for being a little suspicious of motives, it's a way for the company to say to its front-line providers: We hear you. We care about you. You're not just a number to us.