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Friday, January 05, 2007

Climbing Mag Sold; New Running Mag Coming?

Climbing magazine has been purchased by Skram Media, publisher of Urban Climber; the NYC company is run by British-born Mark Crowther. Climbing magazine was sold by giant specialty publisher Primedia, which purchased the mag from Michael Kennedy in the mid-1990s. For now, word is that the magazine will stay in Carbondale, Colorado, with most of its current staff.

It will be very interesting to see how Crowther balances the two climbing rags in his portfolio. The U.S. climbing magazine spectrum currently has Urban Climber at one end, targeting young climbers (mostly boulderers), and Alpinist at the other end, catering mostly to traditional climbers and mountaineers, with Climbing and Rock & Ice in the middle, trying to cater to everyone. The established climbing magazines have been struggling to figure out how to appeal to younger readers, as their median age demos keep creeping upward, but Urban Climber, which launched in 2004, has been much more successful. I've been impressed with the magazine's lively feel and sharp imagery. Now that Urban Climber is in the same family, Climbing may be free to shift its focus slightly—maybe even go back to the future. For one thing, Crowther reportedly has told staff he'd like to see a return to "a more 80s-style openness" in the magazine layout. For those who don't remember, the climbing mags in the 1980s ran something like 30 percent ads, compared with today's 50 percent plus. (Alpinist has capitalized on this shift with its much more editorial-heavy design.) Climbing's ad count has been weak in recent years, despite its circulation dominance, and the magazine has shrunk dramatically as a result; anything Crowther can do to increase editorial pages would be a huge plus for readers. Climbing also might not feel quite so much pressure to target the youth market, which could yield more articles appealing to climbers in their 30s and 40s, who, after all, still make up a major chunk of the overall market (and spend the most money on gear). Finally, Crowther seems super-committed to online media; in late December he announced that Urban Climber's web site will relaunch with a major overhaul early this year. Climbing's web site is already the best climbing-mag site in the world (in my humble opinion), and as a frequent contributor I was relieved to hear that Crowther and Climbing only want to increase that dominance.

But all this is really guesswork. After any acquisition, many things change. Some new opportunities appear. Some people get hurt. As they say in Maine where I grew up: "Hard sayin', not knowin'."

Addendum: Whoa, just found this nugget buried in today's press release: "As well as growing existing magazines and websites, Skram Media's future plans include the launch of a trail-running magazine." Big Stone Publishing, which purchased Trail Runner magazine from my company in 2002 along with Rock & Ice, will be watching Crowther's moves very closely, I imagine!


Anonymous said...

Glad to see they are going to leave the current staff in place. They are all good people and deserve to work for a company that actually knows what it's doing in a small niche market.

Anonymous said...

Point of clarification: Primedia was in fact not the original purchaser of Climbing from MK back in the 90's. It was Cowles, which was bought a year or two later by McMullen Argus, which in turn was bought by Primedia a year or so after that.

Regardless, it should be interesting to see what happens now that the magazine is out of the clueless clutches of Primedia.

Dougald MacDonald said...

Quite right, thanks for the clarification. It was Cowles Enthusiast Media in 1997.

Unknown said...

Interesting note !

I am impatient to discover how these tow very different magazine will evolve.
Dougald, whare you write that Climbing has to increase editorial, do you mean there is too much advertising in the magazine .

For French readers, I just wrote an article about this transaction :

Anonymous said...

As a life-long climber now in my late 40s, who even remembers Mountain magazine, the irony is this: I am a charter subscriber to Urban Climber, sending in my $$s before the 1st issue even appeared, and it has quickly jumped to the top of my list of climbing mags. Reason: it was different, edgy, new. In other words, not just for the young skater-bouldering crowd. But already, I see it drifting toward the same content and tone as R&I and Climbing, which, if we're honest, are frequently hard to tell apart, even with R&I's new large fmt. It seems UC mag began this drift after original editor M@tt curiously exited. So... who knows where it'll go: maybe both UC and Climbing will now feel free to move away from the common middle ground and give those of us who are multiple subscribers something different to read per mag, rather than duplicate content, tone and coverage. Now that would nice.