The Future of Climbing and Technology – Part 2

by Tom Markiewicz on March 23, 2009

In the first part of this series, I questioned whether traditional climbing magazines can still thrive or will we see a faster migration to online only publications?

Peter Beal and Dougald MacDonald both have some interested perspectives on this issue and I’d like to expand further on the topic.

Personally, I still enjoy reading climbing magazines. I subscribe to Climbing, Urban Climber, and Rock & Ice even though I’ve been considering letting my subscriptions lapse at times. I don’t get climbing news from magazines as they’re usually about a month behind. I love the photography, but that can be found abundantly on the web as well. Climbing video is important to me and you can’t watch a video clip of a sick new project in a magazine either.

So why have I continued to subscribe and read them then? It’s likely the combination of (mostly) good articles, reviews, accident reports (I think these are important learning lessons), and technique/gear tips they provide. Unfortunately, all of these could be ported to an online format.

What I would love to see is some sort of hybrid model from the climbing magazines. They could take a lesson from a main stream publication like the Wall Street Journal. I initially subscribed to the WSJ while in business school and at about $300 per year for a subscription to the delivered daily paper, it got to be too much (both in cost as well as paper volume).

After business school, I found the Journal offered the entire paper online for $99 per year. A fraction of the cost, though still a bit pricey, but well worth it in my opinion to still be able to read all the content I wanted while not having to pay for paper I was never having the time to read. Their site even provides the ability to have links to every article in each day’s paper sent in an email. The subscriber controls what and how much they want to read.

I was never going to continue to pay regular price for the paper subscription especially after my student rates ended. By offering the online version at a substantially discounted price, they were able to capture what economists would call the consumer surplus.

Climbing magazines have the opportunity to embrace this as well. How many climbers who are not willing to pay $30 per year on a magazine subscription may be willing to pay $5 or $10 for this same content online? A small percentage I am sure, but realize this is still $5 more than these publishers would have received otherwise.

True, publishers risk that some of their paying subscribers will migrate to the online only version, but with such relatively low subscription numbers as a percentage of the climbing industry’s participants, I would think it would be a welcome portion of additional revenue.

I’m not sure there is anything the magazines can do content-wise at this point. What else can really be added to print magazines? The future is online and it will be interesting to see how the they handle these critical decisions over the next few years.

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