Friday, August 3

Timeless Flight. Have Outdoor Magazines met their nadir?

An unexpected delay on my flight back during a business trip earlier today gave me the dubious opportunity to sit in Liverpool Airport reading the September copy of Trail magazine.


Well with rather too many long hours to while away there was a temptation to read and reread the magazine sat in my lap. Or even to critically assess the content, presentation and format. Which is a little unfair on my part really because Trail Magazine is honestly not that sort of reading material. It never pretends to be a 'work of art' for critical analysis, but a monthly outdoor mag ("The UK's biggest selling hill-walking magazine") to provide information whilst remaining entertaining.

And as I sit here tip-tip-tapping into my faithful Psion 5, the flight has just been called (finally), so I'd better make this a very quick round-up, and clean it up back at home (which I'm now doing)

I'd have to say that Trail is not only a little light on content, but is starting to lay itself open to the accusation of being noticeably dated with some articles. For instance - a couple of references to Steve Perry's charity trip (aborted prematurely at the start of last week), a circular route over Caldbeck Fells the pictures showing a frozen landscape (so how long ago was that trip then?)

I do appreciate the unavoidable delay between putting the issue to bed, and distributing the printed article to the retailer. But how long is the delay, and does it remain acceptable these days? After all newspapers appear each morning based on the previous day's happenings.

I assume the advantage of delayed release for magazines is more financially motivated, but how long are we talking here?

But I digress. Back to the plot JH.

I'd forgive the Perry ref as just being one of those timing things, but in general the relevancy if some articles is becoming an issue these days with 3-4 month article lead times appearing quite common. And news? Well it isn't really. As Perry's mishap unintentionally proved.

I'm sure if I looked a little closer I'd discover this is not an issue limited just to Trail, or even the Outdoor magazine sector. Why as a reading public are we paying highish prices (Trail-£3.50) for something that is not necessarily a reflection of the season and outdoor experiences we ourselves are having?

Or to put it another way. Why on the 3rd day of August am I reading a magazine marked September, but based on articles compiled, at my guess, sometime in March/April? A six month gap?

I repeat this is not aimed at Trail magazine per se. That esteemed publishing team continue to attract a strong readership so are obviously meeting a demand from numerous readers. But there comes a point when the accumulation of the cost for three or four months mags may be better spent on (say) a reference/route guide to Scotland in a book form. And that at least would be something I'd keep and use later. As opposed to stockpiling old mags for years, and finally throwing them away finding no-one else to take them on. That was a moment of satori, and a weight off the attic woodwork, when I realised I'd never referred to one back issue in all the time I'd kept them. Not once.

Well that may say more about me, or what I expect these days from the publishing industry.

Even the on-line version of TGO took a couple of days to post about Steve Perry, although I suspect they were waiting for comment from Steve himself.

Or perhaps I'm becoming more demanding as an increasing amount of news and reviews are via websites, outdoor forums, and yes you've guess it - Blogs. All immediate medias. Quality and veracity of course varying tremendously. But a cross section of views and feedback offers me much more of a consensus view. And usually some come back to the individuals concerned.

But mostly I expect to read far more critical and detailed reviews, based on real life use, on the net. There's no advertiser's to be wary of (and no matter how independent the mag that is always a consideration to some extent. It's only human nature after all) There are expectations to this of course - Judy Armstrong/Chris Townsend being very good at calling a spade a spade where it counts.

But it does look like the outdoor magazine is these days becoming more of a......?

Well to be honest I'm not too sure what they are at the moment. And where they fit into the future of media/audience communication.

But at the moment I can't help but feel that something is slipping away from some sectors of the magazine industry.

Once I read the essential monthly copy for information. For new ideas. For education. Now I buy as something to while away a quick twenty or thirty minute journey. Something lightweight.

And before someone points out my previous posts, all based on regular purchase of said items .... the reason I continue to buy Trail and TGO? (subscription just lapsed BTW) Part relevancy to the interests I have on this blog site and part optimism that things will improve.

Occasionally I uncover a gem. Sometimes an article is relevant to my needs. But mostly I end up dissatisfied. A feeling that there has to be more. And as any retailer understands. If you fail to satisfy the punter properly, forget any return trade.

So finally an appeal. Can anyone in any part of the press/print industry throw some light on this at all? (Whether privately or publicly)

I'd even be interested in meeting/visiting any of the mags/editorial teams in an effort to better understand the realities at first hand.

This ones bugging me. I can feel a chill wind blowing and I'd like to see which bugger has left the privy door open.Or is it the new wave blowing on by?

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I had some chats with Bob C. at the OutDoors show and he mentioned to me that if Cameron would have the choice he would probably stop the publication of the print version of TGO and move everything online for the reasons of instant and not delayed information you just decribed. But why isn't he doing that? Well, aside other issues you simply will not make enough money with it! People have the idea that the Internet is "free" and wouldn't pay for a subscription of a website the same price they pay for the printed magazine. And to some extent I also need to blame bloggers like myself. I post about gear. I make no money out of it and people can read it for free. So if they find the info they want let's say about the latest tents on my blog or others why buying a printed magazine? The only thing that can make a difference would be big in-depth tests and some kind of premium (and I mean premium) content which differs them from what is available for free online. Obviously those things come at a price and looking at the light content you've mentioned magazines like Trail doesn't seem wanting to invest.
On top a magazine lives from his advertisers. Not many advertisers would move online as their ad will be easier overlooked/clicked away and magazines can't charge them the same rates for online advertising compared to the printed version.
Things might change over time when the Internet becomes so cheap and accessible that everybody can use it all the time at every place and the reading habits change also. It will come but probably is 5-10 years from now.
I stop here...
Before (re)discovering the outdoors, I noticed similar problems with computer mags. Far cheaper to buy a book on the subject than to follow a series of articles in a magazine.

But you need to compare like with like. Books are good at what they do, but cannot be kept up to date. Magazines are more timeous, and comparisons to the Web are unfair.

The relative speed of the printed media allows for more in-depth reportage to be undertaken. Alternative viewpoints can be sought, photos taken and the like.

As to outdoor photos - there seems to be 2 sorts of weather in the outdoors press - glorious sunlight or impressive coverings of snow.

The best program on TV that I can think of that showed the real outdoor weather was "Tir is Teanga". Often they got to the summit of hill xxx and found it covered in low cloud. But you can't sell people on that.
I enjoy the sitting back on the sofa picking through TGO, and, no matter how hard I've tried, it just isn't the same experience with a laptop. Apart from the physicality of it (you have to rest it on something in the end), you can't scribble on it and can't just roll it up and stick it in your bag. The time may come when you can do this, and 'electronic paper' has been in the offing for years, but we're not there yet.
It would be interesting to find out the take-up of such paid subscriber services from newspapers, such as the Guardian.
Magazines such as TGO build a reputation for various aspects, not least worthy reviews and comment, and this is where editorial staff step in. In comparison the internet is a swamp of thoughts and views, is largely 'free' and so doesn't pay for editorial staff.
I do actually value most of the articles in TGO and they aren't necessarily time-based news items either. Trail seemed to rely on slightly more 'news' items I suppose, but then that has a sharply contrasting editorial style.
There does seem to be a lot of money around these days, and nice shiny new gear is much vaunted. Magazines do lose their sharpness on points such as this - everyone has been to the expo and blogged about it before they can even get a look-in! Even after this, though, there is still a need for informative reviews of products and reputable magazines still can't be beaten on that.
All valid points I'd agree with them. The problem is this feeling that the format is failing to deliver something, and I can't quite put my finger on it at the moment. Although I guess if I did that would give me an edge over the rest of the print media - lol. LH - I'd especially agree on the Internet=free model and strated to repond until I realised I'd nearly written another post -so I've cut and paste into that instead
Thanks for the prompt
Jim Perrin's priceless essays are a good enough reason to buy tgo - and hardly any of these over many, many years are available anywhere else...
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