19 March 2013

Outdoor magazines: Circulation pressures

I have recently been in conversation, if you can call a pretty one-sided dialogue a conversation, with TGO’s twitter account on the apparent dumbing down of its content and more recently its presence on social media sites, such as Facebook and twitter.

Almost four years ago, the wonderful John Hee wrote a piece on his blog which, amongst other things, talked about the pressures facing Britain’s outdoor magazines. He published a chart, using readily available ABC figures (Audit Bureau of circulation) showing the relative performances of three of the top walking magazine, as shown here:

John Hee's abc figures

I have now updated these figures and it shows quite a dramatic change:

TGO ABC Figures 2012


In the last six years, Trail has lost over ten thousand print sales (about 25%), Country Walking has lost over fourteen thousand (about 31%) and TGO has lost eighteen hundred or so.(about 12%) It should be said that TGO is the only magazine to have gained hard copy readers in the last four years. As well as that, these figures probably don’t take into account the very successful ‘relaunch’ of TGO last June by Emily Rodway.

Clearly, it is a pretty vicious climate out there for print media. I cannot say how the drop in these sales figures has been compensated by the increase in online distribution as I can’t find that information anywhere. All the magazines have taken to the internet: Country Walking and Trail magazines both share the LFTO forum and TGO has its own website. TGO also has a twitter account.

These magazines are produced by surprisingly few people and having an online presence probably stretches that resource even more tightly. I don’t spend a lot of time on any of the magazines’ online places, as I prefer to thumb my way through a paper copy.

Until very recently, from the style of the magazines, comparing Trail with TGO it would appear that Trail was appealing to a more youthful audience and TGO was targeting a more experienced readership. However, I say “until very recently” with a great deal of care. This is because I have noticed a significant change in style over the last few months in TGO.

It is now developing a far more “chatty” style. In the last issue (April 2013) the acting editor, (Emily Rodway is away on maternity leave) Daniel Neilson’s article on his trip to Snowdonia included such wonderful phrases that included “There was no way in buggering hell we were standing on that spike / wobbly rock / one leg for a better TGO cover picture”

Now I’m not one to preach about bad language, as this blog is full of it. But this is a blog, and not established mainstream print media. I was quite shocked to read it in TGO. I’m pretty certain I have never read Cameron McNeish or Roger Smith using phrases like that. It was a bit like hearing your aged mother telling you to “fuck off.” This might well go down well in lads’ mags, but I did not enjoy reading it in TGO.

Then there are the increasing number of “fill” pieces in the magazine. Pieces with no apparent entertainment or education value: See page 8 of the current issue “Gear Bargains:” Three columns of twitter and Facebook comments from contributors telling us where great bargains are to be had. Bear in mind that the mag arrives in your hand probably a good six weeks after these comments were made, just how useful is this? Surely, if we want to look for bargains we don’t look to articles like this – we look at the internet ourselves.

And then there’s “Hiker’s Hash House” on page 12. WTF??? Why???

Surely, from looking at Trail’s plunging readership figures, it’s not a great idea chasing after that particular group of readers. TGO has always stood for quality. I really don’t like the way it is dumbing down.

However, it is not all bad news by any means; There are also some fabulous articles in TGO as well. The highlight this month was definitely David Lintern’s wonderful report on his Haute Route trek along the Pyrenees. Then there was an update on Terry Abraham’s “Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend” film, John Manning’s “Clarion Call” piece, and Chris Townsend’s and Roger Smith’s columns.

These are the reasons we go out and buy TGO every month. If we wanted a lads mag we would go and buy “Nuts.”


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Geoff
      I didn't want it to sound like one long whinge, as there is so much that is excellent about TGO. But I just felt a creeping unease that this is the thin end of a wedge that could possibly destroy 35 years of an excellent magazine.

  2. Right on, my man. And whilst we on about it, what about the very badly Photoshopped cover image for April 2013?

    I don't know which is worse - the extraordinary transparent right-hand walking pole (so lightweight than you can see the landsacpe through it !!), the attempt to combine two images with different resolutions (this is why Pony-Tail-Boy is looking a tad jagged around the edges) or the attempt to persuade us that he'#s in the act of leaping to certain serious injury.

    Or have I got this all wrong, and this is but "banter" and "post-modern de-construction"?

    1. They have used very similar images of Carey, the Dep Ed, leaping apparently to his doom on a number of occasions ij the last few months. It's not just that particular image that's wearing a bit thin...

      Also the cover of the mag is getting more and more cluttered these days with strident text. It reminds me of an sixties version of Paris Match.

  3. The recent "freshening up" of TGO has been very welcome, but it does seem to be tipping over into Trail territory. I wasn't impressed by the bad language in the recent issue either, especially as it was blazoned across a caption. In general there's still some good quality stuff. Let's hope the offending articles are just an aberration and there's a return to the previous high standards. Can we also have a proper letters page and not a load of online filler comments.

    I hope I'm not turning into an old fogey :-(

    1. Oh dear. I fear you are heading into that territory. I've been there quite a few years now...



  4. Replies
    1. Ta, Carl.
      Let's hope that TGO nips this in the bud. We want the magazine to survive and prosper. It's the whole shooting match behind the TGO Challenge, after all.

      It does make you realise how hard Cameron, John M & Uncle Roger must have worked to keep such a fragile thing alive for so long.

  5. I recall chatting with someone from Bauer 3 years ago suggesting it's stuck in a rut and needs fresh blood. Always rehashing the same routes, places, stories and style but with different clothing. It was inevitable it was going to lose readers in that respect.

    Not just because of social media such as your fine blog, sir. But "word of mouth". That's the key.

    Word of mouth on TGO has increased and I got no doubt Emily's revamp played a large part in that. Be it the aesthetics of the magazine, to contributors, to a slight change in personnel and so on. The glossier and less stuffy cover and layout, the more UK centric appeal (as opposed to mostly Scotland) will have done the mag a world of good.

    And more importantly, it hasn't through all this lost it's soul. It's more fun, more welcoming and more all encompassing BUT isn't afraid to confront the issues that matter to outdoorsy folk. Be it those in the know, to even highlighting to those who don't!

    Sadly, both magazines websites are a complete let down. Times change with folk online, no doubt about it. But even so, I've always said a mag can marry the two mediums for mutual benefit.

    eg, John Manning goes out on a hike, testing and reviewing kit. Read that in the mag. But what if John filmed some of his camp talking about the kit, out in the real world (and not gear pics on Wansfell Pike nr Ambleside as is often the case with Trail *wink*wink*). The folk would feel like heading on over to the website having read the feature...and learn more. Vice versa etc. And in turn the website will receive more traffic, and of course then that leads to exposure for advertising and so on and on and on....heck, that's what they try to do with Twitter etc!

    Common sense intit? ;)

    Besides, if there's one thing I've learnt in recent years (going off on a slight tangent here). TGO strikes me as a magazine written by outdoors lovers who happen to be journos. While Trail is just a mag written by journos who 'may' have an interest (usually just starting out!) in the outdoors. To regulars, veterans - there is no comparison with the mags.

    That's not to say Trail is posh loo roll for camps or fuel for a bothy fire. It does have some...'some'...good features from time to time. I like stuff by Simon Ingram (who is a genuine outdoors lover and it shows) and I did like stuff by Hannah Lindon (but she's buggered off from them now, though I believe she contributes to TGO now). Though, I'm basing that on what I flick through while in train stations or supermarkets (don't forget Bauer are in there now, good for exposure and sales of course) passing through en route to the outdoors.

    There ya go...I agree. That's my tuppence worth! :) More next time, at the bar somewhere in the wilds....

    1. I agree just about 100% there, Terry.

      If the magazines are to make a credible push into online media they shouldn't just tinker with it, but embrace it and use it to its full advantage with video clips and decent content.

      It will take far more input than is currently set aside for it. It might even require a completely new player to start it off properly - someone other than the existing magazines who are fully conversant with online media.

    2. Your bang on Terry

  6. A stimulating piece Alan, as usual. Interesting for me to hear these views - for myself, not having so much time to read the mags my priority is quality of gear reviews and quantity of adverts. For which Trail used to have a slight edge. But as everyone indicates times are changing.

    Which brings me to the rug that forms the new background to your blog (sorry if it changed a long time ago, I've some months' blog reading to catch up!) Anyway if you need some advice I can recommend Rug Doctor equipment, good for matted pile and carpet 'dandruff'.

    1. Hi Paul

      The carpet is a nice bit of zebra hide - I'm not too sure he'll take too kindly to a Wash'n'Vac treatment. Zebras can be pretty feisty critters

    2. I thought it was a self admiring close up of some newly purchased underwear. Naturally, this is imaginative speculation as opposed to personal experience of such fine fabrics.

    3. Ooh.
      Itchy & Scratchy spring to mind. That, and WeeWillyWilky's underpants. I wonder if he chose zebra skin shreddies? Could that have been the problem all along?

  7. I sometimes get beguiled into buying a trail mag only to be disappointed. TGO was leading the way with its golighter series and Trail was still extolling the virtues of the 2.5 kg rucksack. Only recently (presumably when the big manufacturers started producing lightweight gear) did Trail jump on the bandwaggon.
    I do feel that TGO has lost it's edge. I remember reading an article by Chris T a number of years ago about winter back packing and I virtually based my kit on the article. The articles are just seem wishy washy now.
    Eddie Meecham was a contraverial figure and some of the stuff he did seemed crazy , but I found that to be cutting edge and food for thought. Wheres the likes of him now?

    1. Hi Greg & welcome.

      I know exactly what you mean about Trail. I have made the occasional purchase only to be disappointed.

      At the time Mad Moose Eddie was writing I used to scratch my head and wonder what planet he was on. But! He was compulsive reading wasn't he? What would he come up with next?

      I still find Chris T offering sound advice - he's the only gear judge I listen to these days - he's the only one who has kept his independence - all the others seem to pander to the various employers' advertisers. However, these days I also look to bloggers that I trust for honest reviews as well.

      I still find Roger Smith an inspirational columnist - he's the only one now standing up for the wild places (apart from Chris T of course) and who has a track record of unimpeachable integrity. His breadth of outdoor political knowledge is quite unique in print media.

  8. I have been wondering about the suicidal tendencies of the cover boys in TGO recently and supposed that this was leading up to some kind of collaberation with the Samaritans. Some eeejits going to try one of these moves one day.... (probably a Trail reader).
    My view is that TGO is basically still sound as a pound as it is and is much classier than it's main competitor - but there are new laddish scribblings around the edges. I wonder what the lasses think of this? Over all and pulling up my red socks and putting on the bobble hat, the seeking of new markets amongst trailboys, fingers still sticky from reading Humph's latest Big Jugs Monthly, is not the way to go. Only problem is, I've no idea what the right way to go is and its possible that the the revamp was like my attempts at Gaelic hill names - brave but futile and but a temporary upwards blip in sales. Are people in general retaining the attention span necessary to read four lines of text without a picture and written in English and not some kind of cool code? (LOL) It may be that printed walking mags are as doomed as British sea power once a certain number of sales is not acheived. That'd be sad. Great Twitter Challenge anybody?
    By the way, if you're going to swear, at least make it make sense and, if possible, funny. Where is buggery hell exactly? Could Dave Albon explain, perhaps?

    1. If there is a "buggering hell," is there also a "buggering heaven?" I dread to think what images the present editor of TGO will print to go with that.

      Still - if it increases circulation....

    2. One would think so, on the basis of recent scandals in the church. *Runs for cover.....*

  9. Nice to see the characteristic graphs and statistics usually applied to wind farms now applied to magazines, like 1950s science TV. Is the new background actually part of a new sofa? ;-)

    No seriously - yes the stats obviously cut to the heart of the situation, laying bare the circumstances the mags don't want us to know, and the advertisers aren't happy about.

    I'm not sure really what variation or change TGO can undertake re. content (as opposed to style) because there is, unavoidably, always repetitive material: routes, report formula, 'common ground' material re. gear reviews. There are other kinds of writing available for the outdoors, but it appears in books not mags.

    I too noticed and didn't like the expletive stuff: it's pub talk, like we're all jokey drunken mates sitting in a pub. It made me think of the loud idiots on camp sites spoiling, actually, what the hills are all about: peace, quiet, nature, walking etc not being disruptive oiks re. other people. Which is not actually what TGO is about of course, nor even Trail.

  10. I agree with that Al.
    But I guess we have to see what evolves over the next few months.
    Whatever, you need to lose the zebra rug background,
    I feel a migraine coming on, and that old yellow hallucinogenic one was just as bad.
    Apparently plain magnolia is the colour of choice.
    Not sure whose choice though.

    1. Thinking about what previous commenters have said and what I enjoy most in the mag this month, I don't see why we can't have more trip reports like Mr Lintern's.

      There is nothing like an inspirational long trip to lift your horizons from the mundane day-to-day struggle. It sends your planning gene into overdrive. You find ways and means to make things happen. It is what inspires us all to better and better trips and more fun than can possibly be legal.

      Forget the half dozen daywalks stuffed into the back of every issue of the mag. Let's have some big trip reports in their place. Good lord above! There are enough fabulous blogs out there all doing wonderful trips. Sign them up, TGO!

      Then you'll have an adventure magazine that will inspire. It will suck in the youthful and the adventurous of spirit just as surely as it will make the existing readers stick to you like a limpet.

      Take a risk TGO. Abandon the tired hackneyed formula and try it. Please!

  11. Well that is a bit of a fast write-up Alan, after putting the youth running TGO in their place on Twitter today. Boys hey, what are we to do with them.

    I confess to really not liking TGO for a while I (lets be honest a long while) under Corbett Cam at the end. All Scotland, Scotland and Perrin was out of control. Oh and more Scotland, and Scotland and the Lakes once in while giving a hint it was not in reality a Scotland focused mag. The Only mag a Scot needed more than a walker.

    But also the way some write in it. A walk in the Dales will starts with St Jongo and his cross back in 804AD blah blah, “who cares” tell us about the bloody walk. I can swear right ?

    There is a balance between the incredibly pathetic Trail telling people the Lairig Ghru is a nice safe winter walk and the like, with all that kit tested up behind Ambleside and the like. To the TGO with Perrin going off so far we never finish reading his article. Has anyone?

    I did have a go reading TGO under the new editor and the lass done a good job I thought.

    But of late I have not read TGO as to be honest blogs have all the content I need! Which makes me think there is a truth and problem facing TGO.

    Go youth focused the old readership stop buying, but the youth don’t buy to be honest. My stepdaughter once spent 99p on a song. She has a large music collection, and large lack of concern for the music industry it seems wishing to make money.

    You see youth do free content. They use the web. How to connect with the future outdoor people is the challenge for the mags, you and me are older and we grew up buying mags, where now it’s Google. So TGO need you, and need the likes of me to buy it again. Thing is I read really good trip reports, see wow photos, and can find out about any kit, new kit and the like for free. Google has a lot to answer for those declining sales.

    1. And there's the rub, Martin. I think your comment nails the dilemma facing all magazines at the moment. People of a certain age - the baby-boomers and older - still like printed media.

      However, the younger generations just don't buy into it at all. I think it's doubtful that this generation will revert to print media later on either.

      It's time all these magazines bite the bullet - as the press already has - and gets online with a decent product as fast as possible.

      This will be expensive - loss making at first - but if they can find a way to make it pay they will survive. If they don't take this step, I honestly think their days are numbered as we oldies either die out or no longer buy the printed magazine.

      I think Terry has a good point - for an online version to work there has to be great content - including video / film clips as well as a lovely moderated forum.

      Perhaps there is a real opportunity for folk like Terry and some of the more techie-savvy bloggers to approach TGO with ideas.

      This does assume that TGO will be receptive, which looks doubtful at the moment.

  12. I didn't like the language. There's something strangely offensive about seeing it in print even if you do hear it spoken around and about. I don't much like that either actually, although I do utter the odd expletive within my own four walls.
    As to the content of the magazine in general I'm not too fussed. I read certain bits, the letters, Roger's and Chris's columns, routes and gear reviews mainly with other odd bits that entice but to be honest, my subscription is about getting hold of a Challenge entry form easily and in good time, otherwise it would be a hard job to find one.
    It's not only outdoor magazines that have these problems (content not language) Good Food, Olive and others that I buy occasionally for a treat always disappoint when they just regurgitate the same old tripe in a 'fresher' style.
    Speaking of food it's early. I need toast. And tea. Lots of tea.

  13. Repetition is certainly a problem; it was one of the reasons I didn't get on with Trail for very long (this month's route up Helvellyn, not dissimilar to last month's and almost identical to the one from the month before).

    I've been scanning articles from TGOs, going back as far as 2001, and doing so has reminded me how much I preferred the long, descriptive pieces by the likes of the late Jerry Rawson to the morsel-sized content which seems to be the current vogue, and not just in TGO.

    I finally fell off the edge of TGO readership at the back end of last year. In all honesty, I haven't missed it half as much as I thought I might.

    1. Hi Dave

      I certainly agree with you on the brevity of the articles. Seeing a six pager from David Lintern on his Pyrenean adventure and six pages from Hanna Lindon on her "Escape to the hills for under £50" should be the way to go.

      Why not grab hold of long distance walkers like Keith Foskett (he can write a good page or two!) with both hands and invite him in to share some of his adventures?

      That's where blog readers are going - they want to hear about adventures with some great photography.

      Surely another great contender would be Mark Waring with his huge upcoming hike in Sweden?

      There needs to be a sea-change.

  14. Those distribution figures are scary. I'd imagine you have more monthly readers than TGO, by some margin!

    I think both Trail and TGO are victims of the same problem. They seem lost in the face of new media and rather than working with it, you get a half-hearted effort to pretend to be with it. Trail has ended up with guff like Facebook comments being printed in the magazine. If I wanted to read them, I'd go to Facebook. Don't get me started on the TGO forum. It makes the Marie Celeste look like a raucous party.

    TGO has made some steps, having people like David Lintern featured is a good start, but they can go so much further.

    There are plenty of great writers and photographers out there, why not work with them to produce a high quality piece of printed material rather than trotting out the same old rubbish year after year?

    1. Hi Michael

      Those readership figures are for the number of copies sold. The actual readership will probably be double that number as the mag will be passed around the house (husband and wife for example, or visitors staying over) so TGO's figures will probably be more like 25,000 readers *each month.*

      It's is still a frighteningly small number, but, it must be worthwhile as the advertisers are still coming. There were eleven full page single adverts in TGO this month alone with another three and a half pages of large adverts plus a couple of pages of smaller adverts. That's sixteen and a half full pages of colour advertising in a magazine of 112 pages - that's got to be worth a few bob.

      However, as a comparison in the April 2012 magazine there were 22 pages of advertising in a magazine of 144 pages.

      Perhaps we're seeing a desperate throw of the dice here?

  15. Agree Michael that the TGO forum is just tumbleweed and irrelevant. Trials LFTO is so badly moderated it’s a joke. Trolls ruined it long ago. On blog stats there is true readers, and just clicks looking for information. But my blog when I do get on with it easily will have double the readership numbers of TGO. With so much free content a person can soon find trip reports, kit reviews and gain knowledge to boost their skills, let alone interact, question and get feedback from others online. As I say Google is the biggest threat to print. On those who could offer so much more to TGO I would put your name in the mix. Your skill with lens and word would no doubt offer fresh high quality content. There is no shortage of people TGO could ask, UK and oversea based. I could do a list of “wow: posts and take those people to the TGO:

    So for starters:

    This young couples adventures
    This young mans packrafting trips
    This UK based packrafter trail blazing packrafts use
    Then there is names Like Alistair Humphreys and his ability to write and take high-class photos would raise the game of TGO

    1. Thanks, Martin

      There is certainly oodles of talent out there already internet savvy that could be used to great effect on a decent TGO online site.

      I think Newsquest (TGO's owners) who are a pretty big international outfit, should bite the bullet and get on with it as soon as possible. They well need to recruit heavily to do this.

  16. Good and provocative piece Al although I should declare an interest and someone who very occasionally writes for TGO and even occasionally gets paid for it, indeed I submitted a piece to them yesterday.

    Towards the end of last year I had a very interesting chat with Newsquest people at the TGO Awards. We talked about a lot of stuff much of it that couldn't be mentioned here — but could probably be accommodated in one of our London meetings ;-) Dates?

    Your data does bear out some of the stuff we were talking about, i.e. Trail's bigger fall in circulation that TGOs.

    To some extent Trail has always set a standard or an aspiration to business managers, especially as an emap publication (or whatever that has now become). I hate it for all kinds of reasons not least because of the way it just re-hashes the same stuff every 18 months or so. Their style of publication is easier to bang out than one that demands some thought and concentration.

    I think Emily has done a good job in moving TGO forward into a more modern era without compromising what was good about the past. I take your point about the Snowdon article — I have't read it as yet, simply because I can't find a print copy to buy! But I think you might be being a bit to harsh on Daniel who is after all doing this on a very temporary basis. I've found him to be a fair and interesting guy though he probably doesn't think of himself as the editor of TGO!

    The road ahead for outdoor print will be hard and will become even harder if they continue to misunderstand the net and the world of blogs. True, there is a lot of crap our there on the net but — especially in this area — there is some good and thought provoking stuff around which makes for really good online reading. If I don't buy a print magazine for a few months I don't always miss it. Further, the best blogs do not have to worry about upsetting advertisers and so their content range can be wider and more challenging.

    The best print journalists and editors are happy to deal with bloggers and see themselves as part of the same eco-sphere. Of all the outdoor magazines I think TGO is showing signs of understanding this relationship better than anyone but I might have to have a second pin to explain that :-) I've certainly had very interesting briefings from important figures and writers on the basis that they clearly hope that I will write about something that they really can't!

    You raise some very good points and these will — I'm sure — will be taken seriously by the magazine. TGO seem to me well placed to transition to a new world but I really wish Newsquest (as opposed to TGO) would properly get to grips with what they really need to do to build a decent online presence. We need more dialogue between the two worlds and more understanding.

    Finally, I agree with you that print still remains important. I can buy my TGO online for my ipad (and other titles for that matter) but al;most universally these are dismal products. I much prefer to browse and read a paper publication.

    It doesn't have to be that way though. There are some magazines that have create superb tablet editions which really make use of the new technology. These publications have been re-imagined for the digital age by people who understand how electronic media can be different to paper. If anyone reading this has an iPad take a look at Sound on Sound on Newstand. This is a tech based mag and so you might expect it to be good. There is — I think — a free issue to download. regardless of content this is of a standard that you won't see anywhere in the outdoors world.

    I could go on and on about this. And maybe I should :-)

    Get that diary out big boy!

    1. Great comment, Sweetpants!

      See you on Tuesday afternoon then. Bring beer vouchers.

  17. They need to act fast Alan. Here is a free online mag and its good. Superb photos and trip reports.

    1. Thanks for that link Martin. That's a great magazine.

      I see no reason why that can't be replicated very easily over here. Cameron McNeish is already editing a free Scottish based mag using the same process, albeit with very limited content - just a series of day walks in Scotland.

      Wouldn't it be good to see with video content as well, though?

    2. Video can easily be put in an online magazine Alan. It’s the format of the future! Note my trip reports now have video. What more can I say. There is more “free” content like the Side Tracked Magazine, and how I expect online magazines will make income is adverts that link to the items being advertised, and reviews with affiliate links.

    3. I too have recently started using video, although photographs are also an effective medium for the internet.

      I'm not sure I really like this development, but it is a fact that the internet is now TV-like which means text will be read even less, the same as if it were text on a TV.

    4. Sigh...
      I've a face that's perfect for radio.
      It will be just me left, tapping away at this type writer, then.

  18. People have asked me in the past why I include obscenities occasionally in my books. I always think twice as my fingers hover over the keys but go with it because it is something I, or someone else have said, and therefore accurate to the conversation at the time. And it’s my piece so it’s my decision, if you don’t like it then don’t read it (even if you didn’t know it was coming).
    I don’t mind it in magazines, I remember Trail using the ‘Fart’ word a few years ago and my eyes reversed in horror, now’s its par for the course. I wouldn’t want to see it splattered all over a publication but occasional use is OK in my book, especially, as I say, if it was actually what was said at the time.
    Trail has always been the apparent ‘cool’ mag of the 3 whereas TGO and CW are for the more mature and ‘sensible’ reader. So, Trail language has always been a little more colourful. I used to get Trail avidly, I don’t bother anymore but will maybe buy one of the other two every couple of months if I have some time to kill over an espresso and a muffin. Point is we are going more over to the internet and I think only a matter of time before maybe magazines are a thing of the past which would be a shame. I like the tactile thing in my hands.
    Oh fuck it, I dunno.

    1. You see, I have no problem with reading virtually anything in a book. Generally we know the cut of the author's jib and might be expecting it.

      But... in an outdoors magazine, of the calibre of TGO, I do draw the line. Maybe it's an age thing.

    2. You probably don't remember the fuss when Mike Harding used the word "bugger" many years ago… we had a number letters defining what it meant for our benefit, from folk who hadn't paused for a mo' to consider what Mike had meant by it. I subbed the piece so I'm stating the obvious that it didn't strike me as being the least bit offensive. And don't forget Mr Perrin's occasional expletive – we never subbed all of those out (and given that he's the Bob Dylan/Dylan Thomas/Rabbie Burns of the outdoor world we'd've been subjected to all sorts of accusations of censorship if we had!). When it comes to expletives (and despite its meaning I don't count "buggery" as an expletive) you just have to read past them, in the way that you have to read past bad punctuation – they're like speed bumps that trip your eye momentarily before the journey across the page continues as before.

    3. Hi John

      Thank you for your comment.

      The Acting Editor wrote this piece, so he wouldn't have had to worry about having to edit it. He actually wrote:

      “There was no way in buggering hell we were standing on that spike / wobbly rock / one leg for a better TGO cover picture”

      I haven't described it as an "expletive"; I said it illustrated that TGO was descending into "laddish chat" territory and that it was "bad language."

      The fact that it was the Acting Editor's own piece said to me that he was setting the new tone for the magazine. I am concerned about this, which is why I wrote this post.

      Looking at the comments in the above thread it seems that others share my opinion.

      Interestingly, on twitter in conversation with @WalkLakes the TGO twitter account "promised" everyone that there would be "no swearing or foul language in the next edition"

      That tweet still remains, whereas a whole raft of other TGO tweets from that period has been deleted.

      TGO say that they "welcome feedback". They have a twitter and Facebook account, which surely shows that they wish to engage with their readers. Well, I have engaged and all I have got from TGO is a curt tweet tearing me off a strip, which displays a complete lack of understanding or any sort of grasp of social media.

      I believe my blogpost has been very even-handed and I have to say I have been surprised that there has been no response of any sort from TGO.

      I never ever refuse or block posters who disagree with me on my blog, so I am quite happy to hear from TGO.

  19. “Bob Dylan/Dylan Thomas/Rabbie Burns” That explains how we never got it, nor managed to finish reading anything he wrote in the TGO John. Most helpful of you in clearing that matter up for us. But the matter is the boys in charge do seem to be accused of dumbing down somewhat the legacy you yourself had helped to make, and shape with the TGO. Then I won’t notice as I get my outdoor reading for free now. Google is handy as I said for that. As for the boys in charge they need to think long-term on how they can keep the readers.

    1. I have to admit to always struggling to get to the end of a Jim Perrin piece, but I was happy for it to be included in the magazine as other readers seemed to be very keen on him, according to the letters page, that is. (I have never met anyone who, when we discussed TGO, had read Perrin all the way through)

      I found his style to be over-worked and far too stridently political for my taste. Whenever I filled in a TGO questionnaire I made this point very clearly.

      The thrust of your second point, Martin, about the challenges facing paid-for print media from free online resources is the crux of the problem.

      I would love to hear TGO's point of view.

  20. Alan, the best way to avoid struggling to the end of a Jim Perrin piece is simply not starting to read it in the first place. I once had a go at some venomous waffle from JP. To my astonishment TGO published my letter and, not being a regular reader, the first I knew about was when I started getting poison e-mails and blog comments from his fellow sanctimonious marxists. But the Left are the nice guys, aren't they ?

    Good article. Print media generally is doomed.

    1. Blimey, Peter.

      At this rate our hills will be smothered in wind turbines and there'll be no TGO, Trail or Country Walking to remind us of how beautiful the hills used to be.

      I've been buying TGO, hardly ever missing a copy since June 1993 - that's twenty years. All that heritage and inspiration could be lost, if they don't find a way through this problem.

      Interestingly, I've heard it said from other quarters that if Mr Perrin's work was ever criticised vengeful retribution was always very quickly forthcoming.

    2. I'd probably treat some of that with a pinch or two of salt, Alan.

      I've met Jim on a number of occasions and he's well aware he and his perspectives are not everybody's cup of tea. He's always seemed pretty sanguine about it to me and, to some extent, probably courts the controversy.

      That said, there are definitely knives out for him in certain quarters; dripping with vitriol in some cases.

    3. Thanks for that Dave. It's good to hear the chap defended.

      This sounds like quite a story - for another time perhaps.

  21. I hope print media isn't doomed as like you Alan, I prefer to leaf through my magazines. Despite it's recent turn of direction down Yoof Street, TGO is still the best outdoor magazine out there. Cycling has lots of niche magazines available, expensive and usually less frequently published, e.g. quarterly but the content is very good and each one's market is tightly defined so each one works, while the main stream caters to the majority. Maybe the outdoors mags will head that way? Cameron McNeish has already headed down that way with his Scottish Walks mag though I was really pissed off I was automatically subscribed to it. How did that happen?
    Jim Perrin is well worth reading. Like any good poem, good writing should be read, considered and re-read and so on.
    Magazines come and go but TGO created the TGOC. It would be a shame if it went down the commercial toilet but if the bucks are all to be found round the u-bend then the editors will be getting fitted up with snorkels, no matter what us old backpacking, climbing, walking, girning old gits say.

    1. Hi Alistair and thanks for your comment

      Looking at the readership figures it appears that TGO is already a niche product, but the things is, it appears that it is trying to climb out of its niche and into other magazines' niches. It is trying to be all things to all men. Surely, experience should show that that is the road to ruin; You will only lose your existing audience and not gain enough new readers to replace them.

      I am delighted you are a Jim Perrin admirer! It was worth it for TGO then for all those years... There was a reader on Skye!

      I *did* like your u-bend analogy. It's probably what is happening at TGO Towers.

  22. Times do change.

    Interestingly enough, I understand Sidetracked (which presents some fantabulous free content) is potentially going into print.

    It would be a shame if print magazines died out altogether - good for train journeys. But it would be an absolute tragedy if the trend of grass roots free content were to be reversed (doubt that's going to happen!)

    1. Hi David

      That's stood the discussion on its head! The free content has to be paid for somehow - presumably from online adverts. I would be interested to hear why Sidetracked is thinking of going into print media.

  23. I read 'Outside' a lot online. It's USA based but the articles dare to run over a few pages and they seem to allow writers the time to research a story.

    I tend to buy TGO, Trail and CW, mainly as something to read on a nightshift. I read few a few blogs too for new ideas.

    I think it was CW that had an article by Fozzie on the PCT, which lead to me buying his book.

    1. Welcome Andy

      That's a mag I haven't seen, so I will have a look. Thank you. I agree with you, magazines can be great starting points for further exploration, whether physically out in a new place or leading to new reading material.

      With a magazine it is there constantly open at the age on our desks or coffee tables, goading us to get on and find out.

      Online reading can be so fleeting in comparison, and so I suppose the adverts alongside each article have much less worth, too.

  24. Loads to enjoy, ponder and ruminate on here, both in the posts and the comments. And lots of good, common sense as well.

    But I think your comment:

    "It is trying to be all things to all men"

    really hits the nail on the head in terms of defining the current race between the main 3 mags to become as much like each other as possible. Why, for example, did TGO feel the need to add a "hill skills" section?

    The future will only be secured by understanding a couple of basic truths: do what blogs can't (longer, more in-depth articles, large comparative group product tests, etc) and clearly define yourslef and you reader, then stick to it ie: niche markets.

    It would be a real shame if print media died a death. After all, it's much safer to read in the bath! (Which reminds me, on the subject of niche markets, how about a laminated copy for the shower?). :-)

    1. Thanks Jules

      I think a magazine *can* broaden its appeal without losing its existing audience - Emily was having a really good crack at that by introducing a broader interest range into the magazine, with longer articles and better photography - all of which must have come at considerable cost.

      This made the mag (for me) to be worth the extra cover price and stayed with me far longer than previous editions before being added to the stockpile of TGOs in the cupboard.

      However, a complete change in writing style - a change to boorish lad-talk - will lead me to chucking it on the pile very quickly and not bothering to go and buy the next issue. Why would I buy something that I find to be written in a style I think is puerile?

  25. Interestingly, the three things that seem to consistently stand out as desirable to readers are a) longer, more in-depth articles b) suitable diversity and c) quality writing and photography. Which should be easy enough to aim for.

    One reason, I suspect, for keeping to the same destinations might be cost. Foreign trips, or trips to new areas that need more research, might be expensive. But, as you say, possibly more aspirational and making for a more exciting product.

    1. Agreed, Jules.

      But if you think about it, you can find great trips overseas on the web, often beautifully illustrated and with a great written style too: David Lintern's article came out of his self-financed trip along the Pyrenees in aid of charity.

      There are loads of these trips that could be given space in TGO. I'm sure the contributors would leap at the chance of seeing their work in a quality magazine like TGO. If the prose is a little below par, then the editor could surely knock it into shape? Isn't that the job of an editor or assistant editor?

      The content is certainly out there. It's up to TGO to go and find it.

    2. Definitely agree with you on this.

      Great trips are being done, and being written about now, albeit by largely amateur authors. But you're dead right - if the adventure quotient is good but the writing below par it should be easy enough to polish it to the required standard with collaboration between the two parties.

      I've not read David Lintern's piece in TGO about his Pyrenean trip (I must try and find it, because I'm very interested in that part of the world!) but it sounds like just the sort of thing that has been missing. I'll refer again to Trek & Mountain who seem to have a roster of contributors - amongst them journalists, mountain leaders, travel consultants, and readers (perhaps a dozen or more plus readers' input) - and there are usually about 4 main contributions each month. In the meantime, other contributors are on trips of their own!

      OK, the mag may not be to everyones taste (eg: it's not backpacking-specific at all). But all types of walking and trekking are covered, and the scope far more international, which to me makes for a better and more aspirational read.

      More than anything, though, it's that the approach is a bit more ambitious and most articles are of the once-in-a-lifetime nature that have taken months to plan and execute - a lot, I imagine, like David Lintern's trip!

    3. I've not seen "Trek & Mountain" but I shall look out for it.

      Thanks Jules

  26. As the editor of three quarterly outdoor magazines - one exclusively digital, the others print and digital, all three available for free - the comments on this post and the follow up by Martin are GOLD DUST. There's no way we'd get this kind of feedback from a questionnaire or reader survey. So thanks - I've distributed everything to all staff concerned with the magazines and it has already spawned some very interesting ideas.

    1. Hi Phil

      Thank you. It's good to hear from the magazine world.

      Good luck with your outdoor mags. Could you provide links for them please? That way we can all find them. Drop me the links and I'll put them in my "Better places to Visit" links list.

    2. Thanks Phil
      I'll take a peek and add them to my links list.
      Good luck with them.

  27. Hmmm. Given this a great deal of thought Alan, since I first read it, and then reading through all of the comments. I still like to have a print copy, or think that I do, but then often don't read much of it after I've bought it.
    I'm not sure what the answer is for TGO. My Dad used to buy it way back when it started and reading some of the articles then, in my early teens and even before that, was definitely a formative experience. I've been reading it, on and off, ever since. I should be very sad to see it go. The articles which stick in my mind from all those years ago were not about particular places, but were thematic. One about summit bivies stayed with me and encouraged me to try that many years later. I also remember an article about the music in your head when you're walking. It was about Debussy and Mussorgsky as I remember, music which at the time I hadn't heard, but it still somehow struck a chord (if you'll forgive the pun). I liked off the wall suggestions, the sort of things Harry Griffin was also fond of, like following a contour or finding a route which linked two places with the same name.
    Diversity seems to be part of the key: many of you don't seem to like Jim Perrin. I do. I like the regular columns, but never read Roger Smith. Each to his own I suppose. One things about Perrin - you could never mistake one of his articles for anything by anybody else and maybe that's in part what the current TGO lacks - writers with a really distinctive individual voice. I don' agree about the your comment earlier about bloggers who have made interesting trips writing them up and then an editor knocking it into shape. Bad writing can make the most fascinating of trips into a tedious read. There's inevitably the potential for a lot of repetition in a magazine of this kind (as somebody who goes over the same ground an awful lot I'm only too aware of that pitfall!); for me the routes at the back are worse than useless. So to most of the stuff about gear. But when I put that point to Cameron in a comment on his blog a while back, he pointed out that those sections are very popular with many readers.
    I'm glad it's not my problem!

    1. Hi Mark

      All the points you make show how TGO has excelled; There has always been something to inspire. I take your point about bad writing making good trips a tedious read - obviously *some* style should be there before the editor gets his hands on it!

      Whatever TGO do in the future, they'll need to do it pretty soon as otherwise I think there'll be a mass exodus to places where quality can be found.

      Have a peek at THIS POST from Martin Rye to see the way the wind is blowing.

    2. Yes I saw Martin's follow-up (and have enjoyed checking out some of the links). I like video content, but for me that's really not a clincher. Good writing and quality photos (as I think several other people have said) are enough on their own.
      TGO's problem is that they are contending with free content. I would have chosen a set of blogs mostly different from Martin's choice, a third person would probably choose another fairly different collection - there's lots of great stuff out there and its hugely varied. Funny, intriguing, inspiring, informative, annoying, opinionated, campaigning, parochial....and all free.
      Again: I'm glad it's not my problem!

    3. And meanwhile silent tumbleweed floats through the corridors of TGO Towers...

    4. Thanks Mark - I'll take a look tomorrow.

  28. I'm just catching up on this, hope I am not too late to comment.

    Great points made by you Alan and by the commenters.

    Emily's relaunch of TGO in 2012 created a really good product - great quality photos and good writing. However i think over recent months it has become more and more like Trail, both in style and content. It is losing the sense of it being a magazine for grown-ups. Not overly serious, just mature. All the reader generated content fills pages but it is low quality and cheap.

    There are very talented writers out there on the blogs and it would be great to see some of them recruited to the magazine or to a new digital presence.

    1. Hi Chris
      It's never too late, Sir!

      Emily's relaunch certainly gave TGO a fresher, brighter appearance, with some welcome new subjects brought in. The magazine once again had a quality "feel" about it, that the current style is starting to erode.

      Let's hope they take note of their readers' thoughts.

  29. Interesting discussion here. Even the best editor in the world has their hands tied by the demands of commercial bosses who may not actually understand the particular nuances that attract a loyal following over three decades. The margins in this business are paper thin, and production budgets get cut much too easily. TGO was lucky for so many years to have an understanding publisher in Glasgow. The new owners in London seem a bit less in touch with the hillgoing community, and might see the bottom line as more important than appealing to loyal readers.

    Emily Rodway has been off on maternity for six months or so now, so she'll probably be back by the autumn. I expect TGO will be back on track not long after that. I gather it's a skeleton staff keeping the mag going in the meantime, so I wouldn't expect too much from them in terms of a response as they're probably simply frantically paddling to avoid getting swamped by the next print deadline. I hear Carey is off to the BMC so it may just be the acting editor left with no other editorial staff.

    Personally, I would like to see TGO go more towards the model of Outside or Alpinist, with really high production values and long essays, but that would be commercial suicide in the UK.

    1. Thanks for your comments, John. I'm pretty sure they are spot on.

      I think it would be a crying shame for TGO to change direction. It has carved itself a solid niche in a very competitive marketplace, with a pretty loyal readership.

      Up until now.

      What I sense from all the comments above is that with a change to a "laddish" style, this may well be threatened.

      Speaking with an old past life Sales's Director's hat on, the easiest customers to sell to are your existing customers. The next easiest sale is to your past customers. Spend time winning them back with a better product and better service. It is far, far harder to win over new customers who you have not dealt with before.

      Emily's relaunch breathed a new lease of life into TGO - and the circulation figures bear this out. This must have meant that old customers were returning, and perhaps new customers were joining the readership as well.

      For the future, from the comments on this post it would seen to be worth a try to improve the quality and lengthen the lead articles, perhaps bringing in some more adventurous stuff that Martin Rye has highlighted over at his blog.

      They should also consider investing in the right people to look after their online social media and need to create a web presence that is truly engaging - and be willing to engage with the readers, rather than pay lip-service to the web and failing miserably.

  30. bin darn busy darn in london Alan. Thankyou (and others) for the vote of confidence re the TGO HRP article - you are of course wise and kind! And who knew I was contributing to a yoof magazine? Cool, daddio... then again , maybe the swearwords were there to appeal to a more mature audience - you' know, like that Sloman fella :)

    Things change, and maybe will again. Interesting dialogue here and over at Martin's. As i said over there, the online community schooled me in how to wild camp and do longer trips - No HRP for me, without free online lessons from the blogosphere. Respect is due.

    1. Mr Lintern
      Jolly nice of you to spend time here to scribble your thoughts.

      How about a piece on the JMT from an insider's perspective? Perhaps we could persuade Dave Gibson at the MCofS to knock out a few words? Maybe something from Mountain Rescue team?

      These bodies speak well to their own supporters but are generally less well-known to those who are not members / supporters. It would be great PR to have articles about their organisations on TGO.

  31. Hello,

    First of all let me thank you for this lively debate. We would like to make a few comments in relation to the points.

    Balance. We work exceptionally hard to balance and evolve with the needs of people who enjoy walking in the hills in the UK and abroad. It is a broad church and we dearly hope to encourage, inspire, inform and entertain people who share our passions. As stated in the very first issue of The Great Outdoors, we still adhere to the core interest of backpacking and hillwalking. For example, in the issue that is currently at the printers we have features by Cameron McNeish and Carey Davies, fabulous photography from the Abraham Brothers archive and a photo essay on re-wilding Ennerdale. In the following issue, which we have just started working on, we have features by David Lintern, Chris Townsend walking the PCT and Ed Byrne.

    Language. While it remains our prerogative as to what we publish, we recognise that some people were not happy with the comments. The comments have been duly noted (and I’d say it’s unlikely you’ll see much of the like again!).

    Social Media. Social media is a wonderful way to share with readers of The Great Outdoors, as well as inspiring potential readers and walkers of all types and levels. Again this is a broad church. Whether this is seeing some wonderful photography, amusing anecdotes or comments on access and deer culling. Which leads me to...

    Digital presence. We know that the digital offering online isn’t perfect and this is something we hope to have exciting news on soon. We hope that many of the people commenting on this blog will be interested in our plans.

    There is no doubt that the commercial environment has been tough over the last few years, yet commercially, The Great Outdoors has been doing pretty well over the last few months both in terms of copy sales (we are up year on year, something few magazines enjoy) and advertising sales are going very well. This success allows us to reinvest in events such as the TGO Awards that engages with the industry and our key event the TGO Challenge. We work hard getting partners in to help.

    Finally, let me wish you all the best of luck on the TGO Challenge if you are participating. And I wish you all a good long weekend on the hills.

    Thanks again for the comments.

    Acting editor

    1. Hi Daniel

      Thank you for dropping in and adding your thoughts. It is good news to hear that circulation and advertising is going well; This should give the magazine's owners the incentive to invest in the magazine on the print side and by the sound of it, the digital side too.

      Everyone realises that TGO is produced by a small, but enthusiastic, team and so we wish you well with your efforts. It can't be easy to put together a mag every month and look to expanding the web side of things at the same time.

      If you need support with the online effort I am sure you will have no problem recruiting willing helpers from your readership, especially those savvy in the dark arts of online media.

      Good luck, and thank you for your input.

    2. I think there's one further point Alan which so far has not been adequately mentioned and sits between, you could say, your exchange with Daniel. You both mention it, and others have too, but not I think with enough precision.

      It's this: look at the "congregation" here and what do you see? Mostly, it's people who know their way around the hills and are known for having an internet presence which shows it.

      For a seasoned hill walker both TGO and Trail are fairly repetitive. Allow me an anecdote. Some years ago someone offered a pile of old Trail and TGOs at the web site "freecycle" which I think was renamed "freegle" - not sure - but the gist of it is this: get rid of your junk which other people might like. I said yes, went to collect said treasure, and had an interesting conversation. She was leaving Britain for Austria, and said her pile of old magazines were always repeating the same old stuff. She wanted alpine hills and had lost interest in UK magazines.

      TGO is not - of course - aimed only at seasoned walkers such as Challenge veterans, bearded or otherwise ;-)

      As such, and this applies to Trail too, it's a mine of information for some people. Routes, gear understanding, shared personal experience - it's all there.

      But really - after a few years of that - is it not repetitive? Of course it is. Speaking personally, I would like to see some greater variation in content. And I don't mean over worked subjective words inclining towards religiosity or similar...I mean something thoughtful but not indulgent.

    3. Yes. I'll go with that.
      New readers need to be "brought on" and encouraged, whilst not dumbing down the product.
      But to keep the old readers there does need to be articles that stretch.

  32. When I got back in to Hiking about 10 years ago I started reading trail, it was useful for a newbie to learn a few routes from but after a while the same content and tips seemed to be recycled. Needless to say I think I purchased it for around a year or so until giving up and reading blogs instead, I found views on blogs far more useful than magazines for the masses. Great post Alan

    1. Hi Dean

      I think outdoor magazines can be a great way to catching peoples imaginations and getting outside. To start with, the photography is generally pretty good and the writers of a calibre that genuinely inspire.

      Blogs will never replace gear testers like Chris Townsend, as he can pull in a dozen similar items and compare them against each other. Blogs can only talk about the gear they have owned. However, if you are interested in a particular piece of gear, then I think noting beats a good blog piece as it can devote much more space to that single item.

      I think that there is room for print media, online media from the print companies and blogs and we are spoiled for choice.

      Now that TGO are looking to improve their digital presence things are really looking up.

    2. Indeed. There's a difference between a "review" and an advertisement. But at the same time, as you indicate, one item which has been hammered in the hills over a period of time does constitute a very fine review - whether it's in a magazine or on a personal blog.

  33. TGO would appear to be struggling for subscribers if an email from them today is anything to go by. 13 issues for £44.95 and, I quote - PLUS a Paramo Fuera Smock wirth £55 abosultely FREE.
    Come back Emily - quick!

    1. Hi Gordon

      I wouldn't take those figures at face value. TGO won't be buying the Fuera smock at that price, and they will be hoping that the subscription will be renewed after the year is up.

      I would imagine that an increase in subscribers will increase the values of TGO's advertising revenue. All advertisers will be interested in advertising in a publication with an increasing circulation - less so with a dwindling one.

    2. Alan, I wasn't referring to the smock, just have a check on the spelling in that quote...

    3. Whoops!

      Nice one, Gordon! :-)

      Perhaps they *are* a bit stretched!

  34. Well
    There are some changes afoot!
    Click HERE for a sneeky peek at next months front cover. Spot the new masthead too...


  35. hi alan
    a great debate going on as always but i hate to tell you this but i can remember cameron mcneish using the the words "piss taking" when he was talking about his challenge route . also i used to read both trail and tgo but gave up on trail as i felt that was more set for the younger crowd and that their website looked like it was designed by a 15 year old and i could n,t even read the damm thing so i took the plunge and decided to stay with tgo and apart from the odd bit dumbing down it seems that i,ve made the right choice

    1. Hi Chris

      It seems like 'The Great Outdoors', (as we shall have to get used to calling it again) have plans for the magazine.

      Let's hope it strengthens and improves.

  36. Well the new TGO has arrived in the you say it is now The Great Outdoors. I've not read it yet....but on a flick through there are a few things that catch my eye

    1. Thanks Chris. I'll nip out tomorrow to try and find a copy.

    2. There are still bits that are a little over-dramatic... "Ben Nevis: Tackle the knife-edge ridge to the summit" etc

    3. This might upset a well-known blogger, but I can't abide the use of "summit" for the majority of British hills.

      You get to the "top" of a British hill unless it's the Inn Pin or similar.

      All way too dramatic...

  37. Piece by Cameron McNeish on this very topic:

    Oddly enough, no reference to your blog or to this post either!

    1. Thank you Andy. You can find my reply to Cameron's piece by clicking HERE

      He's an old dog and it seems he's still up to his old tricks...

  38. You might find This Article interesting.

    It shows the generally woeful way in which most magazine publishers are responding to the problem of coming to terms with the loss of their print readership.
    On a more positive note TGO have now beefed up their web presence, but there si still work to be done, which you will realise after a swift read of this article.


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