The Fine Print

This is not the original post I intended to share this week, but something happened that has been on my mind perhaps more than it should. Now let me prefice the following ramble by saying there has been a lot of crazy, heavy, and disheartening events going on the past six months that are WAY more important than what I am about to blather about. None the less to me it is a loss that has caused me to pause, remenice, and contemplate the future and therefore is worth sharing if only with myself.

This past weekend I was off the grid both literatally (mostly) and figuratively. When I returned Sunday night, I kept seeing Instagram posts about two of my all time favorite magazines -BIKE and Powder. After some googling, I found the source of the activity. A360, a media company that owns several major magazine publications had decided to fold BIKE, Powder, Surfer, and Snowboarder. Now I know most people wouldn’t even recognize these titles let alone morn their loss, but for those such as myself who have literally worn out issues over the years it is a major blow to the culture of their respective sports communities. 

Through my teens and twenties before you could mainline the digital herion of social media, magazines were a major source for content about outdoor adventure sports such as mountain biking and skiing. Particularly for mountainbiking, which grew tremendously through the 90s and 2000s publications such as Dirtrag and BIKE provided not only the latest trends, but stories that captured (and contributed to) the evolution of the sport and it’s culture. As a non-techno-gear junky I was immediately drawn to the soulful writing and epic photographs contained within each issue of BIKE. Those stories inspired my own riding, adventures, and articulated why I and many others loved riding bikes.

As a photographer the images I saw printed in BIKE and Powder were absolute inspirations as they went beyond simplistic eye candy action shots (though there were plenty of those) and resenated with my creative side. I discovered some of my most inspirational photographers through those magazines such as Sterling LorenceScott Markowitz, and Jordan Manley. My absolute favorite issue of the year were the photo annuals which showcased the best of the best in full page print and made me want to be an outdoor photographer too. Those issues were flipped through and through and often disected for wall art.

Sadly “progress” marches on and in the age of scrolling, tic-tocs, and tweets the majority of us give little time or appreciation for written stories or visual print. Video may have killed the radio star, but social media has certainly killed the magazine star. Though it is likely that the collapse of the magazine industry started before the dawn of Facebook. Remember the days when you got a whole year’s subscription for like $12?!? Most of that probably hinged on subsidizing through advertising, but it also seems like it was a race to the bottom where you tried to capture as many subscriptions as possible through pricing well below production costs. Not likely a sustainable model in the long run. And as is often the capitalistic way, the print media world consolidated. Smaller publishers were purchased by larger firms that wanted to add segments to their portfolios and those companies were bought by larger companies and well, you know where that goes.

All is not lost however and as with film photography there is still a small number of folks out there that appreciate longer (in modern terms) form stories and the feel of print. A number of great independent publication still exist focused on creating high quality content such as the DrakeSki JournalFreehub, and Adventure Journal. Their content maybe art and soulful expression, but at the end of the day magazines are a business and nothing is truly free. In a recent interview, Steve Casimiro producer of Adventure Journal and former editor of Powder magazine framed the formula for a successful publication. Steve said “It is the publisher’s job to create a high quality product and the consumer’s job to pay for it.” This is increasingly hard in an age where the majority of consumers willingness to pay is zero and alternatives of vary quality abound. I won’t be hipocritical and say I never consume free mindless content of the interweb, but I have increasingly found myself returning to print. Perhaps it is my heightened appreciation as a photographer, a sense of nastalgia or the simple fact that you can’t beat a morning on the porch with a cup of coffee and a good story.

BIKE and Powder are gone and that is a damn shame. If you are like me and want to see great storytelling publications continue, pick up an issue of one mentioned above or explore your own. When you are done with it, subscribe and pass it on to someone else who may appreciate it too. Perhaps with enough interest and appreciation we can keep independent print storytelling going.

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