Every so often in blogland, you get thinking about something and someone goes and beats you to it. Such was the case recently when this post appeared on Alan Sloman’s blog:
For a week or two now I’ve been mulling over the current state of the printed word and the quality (or otherwise) of the recent crop of outdoor publications. Put bluntly, I’ve been scanning the covers of the major outdoor publications for a few months now in the mood for an impulse purchase, and found nothing worth shelling out my hard earned cash for.
The stats that Alan has provided back up what I imagine we all know deep down: magazine circulation is dropping. And the comments that followed the post show that there are a number of opinions as to why this is the case.
Without doubt, one of the major impacts has be due to the advent and growth of social media sites. So prevalent is this growth that even online forums (not so long ago the new kid on the block) are struggling to maintain a healthy and vibrant community in the face of young upstarts such as Facebook and Twitter, a situation exacerbated in many cases by a lack of proper pro-active moderation that has seen the trolls moving in and claiming squatters’ rights.
Nowadays, it seems more and more outdoor enthusiasts are shunning the traditional magazine in favour of the blog. For the reader, blogs can act as both as a source of reference and information, whilst for the blogger they provide a way of sharing experiences with others. There are an increasing number of such sites, and obviously the quality and content can vary massively across the spectrum. But the huge diversity of interests and approaches, and the speed at which they can be delivered simply cannot be covered in the same way by a magazine.
Critics claim that it’s all a bit self-congratulatory, but that rather misses the point: blogs and bloggers can deal with things in a different way to the more traditional outlets. And however good or bad the quality might be, individually they are all honest endeavours untainted by the need to pander to advertisers or appeal to the populist, and therein lies their strength.
Of course all of this has left the magazine in a bit of a dilemma: what to do now the Internet has made outdoor journalists of us all? (I exaggerate, but you get the idea!). Well, one of the obvious things would be to concentrate on the sorts of things most of us can’t: longer trips, large group comparative product tests, new materials, fabrics and technologies, and maybe add in a bit of news and campaigning so as to galvanize the walking community against those who would seek to desecrate what we love. What seems to have happened, though, is the dumbing-down of content and a race to look more like the competition that readers have noticed and commented on.
But there is another reason, I think, why magazine circulation is on the wane, that has nothing to do with competition from blogs or Facebook, advertising revenues or circulation numbers, gear reviews, laddish content or otherwise. It’s not even that they haven’t yet worked out what they can offer in the Internet age. No, it’s none of those, it’s that they’ve become a little bit …… well …. er …. dull.
It’s not that there is a lack of ambition exactly, but that they are all a bit too happy to play it safe. Nothing controversial (to keep the advertisers on side) and relying on the same old trips in the same old destinations: The Lakes, Snowdonia, Glen Coe. All good destinations, no doubt, but over exposure has blunted their attraction.
As anyone can see from this blog, I am happy to walk anywhere: fell or mountain, dale or riverside, winter or summer, home or abroad. I’m also happy to read about campaigns, new technologies, gear reviews, news and events. I even enjoy the photography too. So, between Trail, Country Walking and TGO, you’d think there’d be something that was bound to appeal in one or the other over the space of three or four months, wouldn’t you? But no, it was not to be.
In truth, I’ve read or subscribed to all of them over the space of fifteen years or so, enjoyed much and learnt a lot. I’m currently subscribing to Trek & Mountain, and find it’s worldwide scope, diversity of content and chunkier articles more to my taste – at least we get a good view of what “abroad” looks like! But, eventually, that may run its course, too.
Whatever the future for the outdoor press, I think they need to focus on what they can offer that other media can’t, and be a little bit bolder, a bit more challenging, prepared to take a few more risks and be a bit different – you know, get the adrenaline going a bit.
Because the danger is we just end up with the printed equivalent of muzak, and that would be a crying shame.