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Preserving the hallowed ground of adventure print publications

Whether themed for ski, bike, outdoor adventure, mountain culture (or any combination of the above), print magazines played a large part in shaping me into who I am today.
Fit for print Pique columnist Vince Shuley says that print magazines had a big role in shaping his identity. photo by VINCE SHULEY

Whether themed for ski, bike, outdoor adventure, mountain culture (or any combination of the above), print magazines played a large part in shaping me into who I am today. I was that kid who would linger at the newsstand and work my way through the special interest section, too broke to buy anything, and testing how many features I could read before the cranky shop owner would shoo me along. When I did manifest enough money from my neighbourhood community newspaper deliveries, I would triumphantly return from the newsagent on a Sunday morning clutching the latest edition of Australian Mountain Bike. I would read the stapled magazine from cover to cover, inspect every photo dozens of times, I'd even read all the ads and parts catalogues. Born-and-raised Canadians likely have similar stories about OG ski magazines like FREEZE, which, like many smaller special interest publications, perished in the mid-2000s. I won't get into the whole internet-killed-the-magazine-star narrative, but let's just say when I began my photojournalist career about a decade ago, I was already late to the Golden Age of action sport magazines by about 20 years.

Things are different now, I get that. The fact that I even have the opportunity to write this column every two weeks for a surviving print newspaper, (ahem newsmagazine) has me thanking my lucky stars. A differentiator, however, is that Pique is a free read. People are far more discerning about paying for content these days (author guilty as charged), choosing instead to consume through free platforms like YouTube and the Big Three of social media; Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

But there are the exceptions. Much like how the declining movie theatre attendance has found a niche in luxury-style experience (big comfy chairs, food/alcohol service, none of which you'll find at our humble cinema in Whistler), magazines have tried their hand at a premium product. Printed on exceptional stock (a publisher's fancy term for paper) with the highest quality of curated photography and carefully distilled stories, the coffee table book magazine is a symbol of the print industry's tenacity. Fewer advertisers, a higher price point and the most compelling written and visual stories you can get your hands on. Locally, Mountain Life Annual does just that. In the next tier, free pickups like Mountain Life: Coast Mountains and Coast Mountain Culture do an amazing job of balancing great stories with advertising, but with a free publication, that ratio needs to stay at about 50 per cent to keep the whole business sustainable.

Last week, I was on, an online outdoor adventure magazine I frequent when I'm looking for inspiration. It has great digital content and it's free, but unfortunately it struggles to sustain itself. Editor Steve Casimiro is bullish about maintaining the integrity of Adventure Journal without resorting to sponsored content (where advertisers pay to have certain products, destinations or brand messaging featured). What Adventure Journal does offer is a premium coffee-table-book magazine four times a year with the best stories and the best photos, few of which are uploaded to the free-access website. It's subscribers to this print magazine that subsidize the website content. With more than 300,000 unique users per month visiting the website (myself included), it's a small percentage of folks that carry the financial load.

Casimiro recently wrote on appealing to its readers: "I'm not asking for a handout. We think that Adventure Journal is one of the best outdoor publications ever made. That's certainly our goal. Ninety-eight per cent of our subscribers renew—a number so high it's unheard of in publishing. Almost every day, a reader emails us with a lovely note about what AJ means to them. I'm saying this not to boast, but just to say there's pretty good evidence that if you like what we publish online, you'll love what we do in print."

Plenty of other premium print magazines have lost the momentum that Adventure Journal is trying to hold on to. The New Zealand-based mountain bike publication Eskapee was working on a similar model where members would receive Eskapee Anthology, an annual collection of the year's best stories printed and bound on beautiful stock. Any mountain biker who is lucky enough to own one of these I doubt would ever give it up. Unfortunately, editor Damian Breach couldn't muster the numbers to keep it alive and Eskapee was shelved in January 2019.

As a content creator who has been lucky enough to bank a few paycheques from some of the aforementioned publications, I realize I'm incredibly biased as I sit here urging you to spend your hard earned money on magazines. But it's about more than that. These bundles of printed paper are where our most compelling adventure stories are told and preserved in a tactile format.

So if you enjoy reading stories and appreciate photography (beyond scrolling to the next thing on your feed), join me in my pledge to maintain at least one active magazine subscription and actually take the time to read every edition. It's not cheap nor easy to justify spending money on ourselves for this sort of thing, so why not gift a year's subscription to partners, friends and family members? You may just turn that person into a lifelong reader.

Vince Shuley subscribed to Adventure Journal shortly after writing this column. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email or Instagram @whis_vince.