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Economy hits outdoor print publications

Author(s): Rick Curtis
Posted: October 27, 2008

Print publication is one of the most challenging businesses out there. You are in a constant push to write and edit content, find and keep subcribers, and find advertisers. Two small but well-respected niche print publications have stopped publishing, Alpinist and Backpacking Light. Their press releases tell some of the story of the challenges of a print publication in tough economic times. In the case of Backpacking Light, the company will continue to operate but cease to publish a printed magazine. In the case of Alpinist, the entire company is closing. According to Hoovers.com on average about 35% of a magazine’s revenue comes from subscribers or single-copy sales and the remaining 65% comes from advertising. Mediaweek reports that advertising revenue has decreased.

Alpinist Magazine

Alpinist LLC, which publishes the climbing magazine Alpinist, runs the website www.alpinist.com and produces The Alpinist Film Festival, announced that the October 2008 financial crisis has forced them to suspend operations. The print publication Alpinist

Founded in 2002 by Marc Ewing and Christian Beckwith, Alpinist began in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as an archival-quality publication dedicated to world alpinism and adventure climbing. The quarterly quickly gained a reputation for both superior writing and beautiful photography; by 2004, Italian climbing legend Reinhold Messner called it, “The best climbing magazine in the world today.” Alpinist went on to win numerous awards; in March 2005 it was featured in a seven-page article in Outside Magazine (“The Purists”) that explored its impact on American climbing. Alpinist’s website, www.alpinist.com, attracted more than 50,000 unique visitors per month. Breaking news, weekly features, video, and desktop wallpaper images were complemented by reader’s blogs and gear reviews, creating a site that thousands of climbers turned to daily for both information and entertainment.

In 2004, Beckwith founded The Barry Corbet Film Festival in honor of cinematographer and adventure legend Barry Corbet. In 2005, the event was folded into Alpinist LLC as The Alpinist Film Festival (AFF). By 2008, the AFF, held each winter in Jackson, had grown to a four-day annual event that attracted more than 3,000 people each year. In 2008, the AFF began touring; events in Bend, OR; Bozeman, MT; and Boulder, CO, exported signature elements of the master festival, such as cocktail hours and live DJs, to create a fun gathering for adventure communities across the West.

“We’re extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the six and a half years since we started,” said Publisher Ewing from his home in Chicago. “There hasn’t been a publication like Alpinist since Ascent”—the iconic climbing publication that emerged from the 1960s to inspire a generation of climbers—”and our readers have been our lifeblood. We owe them everything.”

“It’s incredibly sad to close after working so hard for so many years,” said Editor-in-Chief Christian Beckwith. “That being said, I’m deeply proud of our team for putting out twenty-five great issues, the film festival has been a blast, and I’m honored to have shared all this work and creation with our community. I’ll always look back on Alpinist with joy.”

Exploration of the options for the various Alpinist businesses are underway. Details will be made available on www.alpinist.com when they are finalized.

Backpacking Light Magazine

Beartooth Media Group, Inc., announced today that it will suspend production of its print magazine (and the Zinio.com digital edition of that print magazine), Backpacking Light. Other operations, including its website, BackpackingLight.com, its book publishing division (“Beartooth Mountain Press”), and the Backpacking Light range of house-branded gear and apparel, will remain business as usual.

Issue 11 will be the final issue mailed to domestic (U.S.) subscribers and issue 10 will be the final issue mailed to international subscribers. All issues remain available for single copy purchase at BackpackingLight.com, and Issues 9-11 will remain available at existing newsstand locations throughout the U.S.

Reasons for discontinuing production of the print magazine include: rising costs, inability to meet production schedules, industry-wide declines in print media advertising and subscription revenues, increasing pressure from subscribers to have a “lightweight” footprint on the environment true to the company’s vision, and the desire to refocus the company’s energy back to its online media roots.

The company’s President and CEO, Ryan Jordan, cites the current economic recession as a major factor in this decision. “Printing, transportation, and fulfillment cost increases over the past few years make publishing a print magazine of our size at an affordable price impossible without advertising,” Jordan said. “Now that advertisers are moving more of their ad dollars online, the ability to produce a high-quality, short run, niche publication requires substantial costs. It’s not fair to our long-time customers, including our gear shop and online subscribers, to divert their dollars to unprofitable projects.”

In addition, the company has found it increasingly difficult to reconcile their print magazine footprint with their vision as an industry environmental leader. “We promote sustainability and responsible resource usage,” comments Jordan. “It’s hard to do that when retailers and magazine distributors are destroying unsold copies of the magazine, and subscribers are throwing them away.” Jordan continues, “The printing industry is the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Add to this the the monumental transportation costs required to deliver printed matter from the factory to distributors, retailers, and subscribers, and the combined tax upon energy levels is pretty dramatic. We can’t in good conscience be a part of that simply to increase our sales base and to serve the decreasing number of subscribers that demand that their information be delivered in print. The outdoor industry’s addiction to paper – magazines, catalogs, hang tags – is completely counterproductive to their long term sustainability. We’ve made the decision to break away from that herd.”

Jordan states that the complexity of producing a print magazine has also taken its toll on the resources of a company that already produces one of the outdoor industry’s largest web sites, manages a book publishing division, and its own brand of outdoor gear and apparel. “The print magazine was an experiment that diverted resources away from our core activities. Now it’s time to end the experiment and reinvest our resources into serving and building our core business, and serving those customers that have been such an instrumental part of growing our company. As hard as it is to end the print magazine, it’s an exciting time because we have so much to look forward to in the future. Keeping the print magazine afloat has inhibited us from doing some of the other things that we really wanted to do for our customers.” One of those things, cites Jordan, is expanding the depth and diversity of the editorial content published online at BackpackingLight.com.

Subscribers holding unfulfilled subscriptions will not be left in the dark. “We are committed to making sure that every subscriber to the print magazine will be taken care of,” says Karen Wilson, Backpacking Light’s Customer Service Manager. “We have a subscription conversion and refund program in place that has already been communicated to our print subscribers.”

Backpacking Light was founded in 2001 and rapidly established itself as a leading online publisher in the outdoor industry during a time when other outdoor magazines were struggling with their identity. Jordan claims that outdoor magazines still haven’t quite figured out how to respond to economic and environmental pressures. “As for Backpacking Light, we have no identity crisis anymore,” says Jordan. “We know what has worked, what our subscribers want, and where to go from here. I’m really excited for the future.” 


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