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Here We Go Again

For this week’s Outdoor History, we’re looking back almost 20 years to the day. And full disclosure, it’s this reason I selected this article as a topic. But lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it’s like Groundhog Day.

I say this because the article is about media consolidation of the verticals. While certainly not the first in the Outdoor space (Backpacker was once owned by both Condé Nast and Rodale), looking back, this collision does seem like a harbinger of things to come.

We just didn’t know it would be Outside that would be the one to hunt and gather its way through the magazine rack at REI.

But more to the moment, it was Google’s announcement this week about its A.I. Overviews feature that will summarize findings instead of driving traffic to third-party sources that got me thinking– that digital publishing is in for the same disruption, and reduction of choice and voice, that consolidation set forth on that day in May 2002.

We’ll see how it goes.

Rock & Ice and Trail Runner Sold to Former Climbing Mag Publisher May 17, 2002

In May 2002, the outdoor media landscape witnessed a pivotal shift when Duane Raleigh and Quent Williams, former executives of Climbing Magazine, acquired Rock & Ice and Trail Runner from North South Publications.

This bold move, chronicled by SNEWS, marked a new chapter for these niche publications and set the stage for significant changes in the outdoor media world.The acquisition came with immediate challenges. Relocating the magazines' operations to Carbondale, Colorado, Raleigh and Williams had to navigate the tricky terrain of staffing and restructuring.

Dougald MacDonald, the publisher, and Brian Metzler, the Trail Runner editor, found themselves without jobs initially. However, Metzler quickly aligned with the new leadership, recognizing the immense growth potential in the trail running market. This move not only reshaped the publications but also set the stage for a new challenger in the climbing niche, "The Alpinist," backed by deep pockets.Big Stone Publishing, the entity formed by Raleigh and Williams, aimed to rejuvenate these titles. Rock & Ice, already a cornerstone in the climbing community, sought to expand its influence, while Trail Runner aimed to capture the growing enthusiasm for trail running. With compelling graphics and photography, they were both important players in forming the connective tissue of 1990s/early 2000s outdoor culture.

However, the true test for outdoor media was coming with the rise of online platforms and user-generated content. Publications were forced to rethink their strategies, exploring new revenue streams and leveraging social media to engage audiences. Outside’s moving the lion’s share of its titles online (i.e., ceasing publication) is the extreme example of our corner of the media industry looking to redefine itself. And no, it is not lost that both titles cited in the SNEWS piece are no longer printed and are owned by Outside.

Today, the landscape is further complicated by the integration of AI into search engines like Google. As AI becomes adept at summarizing content, the process of driving traffic to third-party sites will diminish, impacting readership and advertising revenue. Outdoor media outlets must adapt, exploring innovative business models, personalizing content, and offering unique experiences to maintain their relevance. If you thought generating awareness and readership was hard before, just wait a minute.

Despite these challenges, the outdoor industry's media continues to evolve, reflecting the diverse interests and passions of its audience. From climbing-focused publications like Alpinist and Climb Magazine, to established multi-sport titles like Elevation Outdoors and Adventure Journal, to new (and old) adherents to the printed form like AJ, Mountain Gazette, and Trail Magazine, the industry remains vibrant and resilient, constantly seeking new ways to captivate and inspire outdoor enthusiasts. And yes, that includes the omnivorous wannabe vampire squid that is the Outside Digital and Events and Listicle Company.

Consolidation is as much a part of the business lifestyle as the start-up. And the future of outdoor media hinges on the same things that set it apart in the past– its ability to embrace change, leverage technology, and foster meaningful connections with readers. Whether through immersive storytelling, interactive experiences, niche communities, or a distinctive voice and worldview. Hello, Rock Fight! (What, you really think we would make a shameless plug in here somewhere?)

No matter what meta-induced form it takes, outdoor media will continue to play a vital role in shaping our collective passion for adventure and proper bathroom literature.


The Life And Times Of Outdoor History, by Rock Fight Historian David Karstad is made possible by the fine folks at the Utah State University Outdoor Recreation Archive.


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