Thoughts on the Outside Layoffs, Outside Media, and Adventure Log
Anyone surprised by the news that Outside was downsizing its stable of magazines and laying off about fifteen percent of its staff wasn’t paying attention. The media industry has long struggled to find profitable models in this ever-connected digital world, where technology and consumer reading and viewing habits are seemingly changing day by day. CNN spent $300 million building a paid streaming service and courting stars like NPR’s Audie Cornish and Fox’s Chris Wallace, only to have the new owners pull the plug weeks later. It was one of the media industry’s biggest debacles in decades, and it goes to show that huge salaries and fancy titles don’t make you smarter, or perhaps, more accurately, clairvoyant.
Outside was owned and owned for many years by Larry Burke of Santa Fe, but was bought in 2021 by Robin Thurston, who made his fortune with the MapMyFitness app. Backed by nearly $200 million in private investment, Thurston’s Pocket Media launched a wave of acquisitions, buying five media and technology companies and renaming itself Outside Media in February of that year. Thurston’s vision was, he said at the time, “Like Netflix and Amazon Prime, Outside will create and distribute distinctive content to a global audience on any internet-enabled device.”
Today, Thurston claims 800,000 paid memberships across Outside’s brands, although it’s unclear how much revenue that generates. When outside subscriptions launched, they cost $99 per year, but the company soon offered discounts. Currently, it costs four dollars per month for “Outside+” and three dollars per month for access to Outside. Whatever it pays, it doesn’t: Outside Media has a staff north of 500 and just laid off, insiders told us, between 90 and 100 of them.
It’s rough. It’s brutal for anyone who just lost their job, despite Thurston’s promise in a company-wide email about ‘severance, benefits and job search resources’ . It’s also brutal for the people who have been left behind, who will now spend their days looking over their shoulders for the next round of trimming, networking and tweaking their resumes. I’ve heard from friends at Outside that morale has been at an all time low – cuts of this magnitude usually knock it off the table.
I know this because I have lived the experience. I lost my job when new owners acquired the Surfer publishing group, and I watched, sadly, when National Geographic closed Adventure, and then when Powder and Bike were gutted. Looking ahead to these actions, people were skittish and paranoid and certainly not well focused on the task at hand. Troubled offices are not happy offices.
Let’s be clear: I hope Thurston understands. Outside is the largest outdoor media company by order of magnitude, and its success is good for the industry and potentially good for outside culture. Despite being nominal competitors, what we’re doing with Adventure Journal couldn’t be more different than Outside’s model. I sure wish more Outside readers knew about Adventure Journal – if we only won one percent of those members, we’d more than double our subscribers, but AJ has been thriving since launching digitally in 2010 and in print in 2016. Our success or failure has nothing to do with them, and a vibrant exterior helps nurture and manage the outdoors. . We all benefit from it.
Let me also be clear: despite our deep emotional connection to storytelling and our love of adventure, selling something in the marketplace subjects you to the same Darwinian capitalism as any other product. The exterior is in trouble because their model doesn’t work. Maybe people don’t want an outward-facing Amazon Prime. Maybe their overhead is too high. Maybe they shouldn’t consider other people’s life experiences as “content.” I don’t know – I don’t run things there, and I don’t think they ask, LOL.
What I know from the media is two things. Above all, publishers need to create products that people like enough to buy. It’s so simple. Make something worth buying, period.
The second thing is that media readers, outsiders or otherwise, need to be more invested and thoughtful about what they read and watch. Are clearly generated lists of gear and stories to get you clicking on affiliate links important to you? If so, great. But remember, the most valuable thing you have is your time. Spending it on empty calories won’t fill you up. Scrolling rarely does.
Readers should value the media they read, respect and watch through direct financial support, which means paying for subscriptions when they are available to you. I know, I know: pandemic, inflation, inertia, no time to read, etc. Well, if anyone has time to read the free stories on our website, they most likely have time to read the paid stories from our print quarterly. .
Obviously I want you to support AJ – and if everyone who reads the free stuff subscribes I’ll never have to ask – but even more so I want you to think clearly about what you’re reading and why you’re reading it . The internet is a fast stream of shiny, shiny distractions, always new and mostly free. Sometimes the distraction is exactly what the doctor ordered. But above all, no. Above all, we crave connection, depth, and like-minded storytellers. When you find it, at least in my experience, it’s rare, so you have to support it and give yourself the quality.
Many independent publishers worth their salt would love your support. If this is us and you would like to subscribe to Adventure Journal’s print quarterly, do it here.
If you want to help support our efforts outside of the magazine, you can do it here.
Photo by Claudio Schwarz