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