Confession time: I dig World Series of Poker coverage on ESPN.
My pulse quickens, my pupils widen, I nervously stroke my facial hair whenever one of the game's heavy hitters - a Phil Ivey or a Johnny Chan - calls "All in!" and push their chips into the middle of the table. It's awesomeness defined.
That same sort of attraction hooked me on this announcement from good friend Joe Healy over Fly Rod & Reel Magazine. What Healy and his staff are doing, starting with the March issue, is increasing their page count to a minimum of 100 pages and switching to higher-quality paper and perfect binding. And, oh, yeah, they're decreasing the number of issues each year, essentially dropping down to a quarterly.
Fly Rod & Reel, arguably the Phil Hellmuth of the fly-fishing magazine world, is going all in.
Not surprising, really. Those left in the printed media have reached a point where they either play and bet smart, or slink away from the table with their complimentary watered-down drinks and join the blue-haired widows pumping coins into the quarter slot machines.
When a showdown happens in the WSOP, ESPN is kind enough to provide a little percentage graphic to indicate the probability of one player or another winning a hand. For instance, a pair of pocket aces might be a "84%" compared to 16% for a player waiting for a spade on the river to complete his flush. We don't get that with bold shifts in business directions from publications. We can only let history, and supposition, be our guide.
Fly-fishing media has splintered in a couple of directions in recent years. On-line mags like Catch and This is Fly are real contenders for anglers' reading time (and advertising dollars) - right there with high-quality print pubs like The Drake and the new The Flyfish Journal. Whether it's on-line or print, as The Drake's Tom Bie eloquently points out, success starts with sound editorial product, and by and large, that's something Fly Rod & Reel has always had. The difficult part is that FR&R (along with one or two other titles, and you know who you are) now occupies that middle ground between the e-mags and the fine quarterlies.
But pushing the chips in this way - refocusing and rededicating to the printed product - is an interesting move. Interesting, because much of what we hear is that print magazines are in a death spiral, complete with a Grim Reaper just a-waitin' to devour the next soul. Interesting because other publications have enhanced their on-line product before making radical changes to the printed thingy that shows up in the mailbox. Interesting because, well, it's fly-fishing, which has been given much of its je ne sais quoi by the written word (see, Hemingway, Voelker, et al.). Interesting because, well, it's fly-fishing and trends can be slow to develop in this industry (really, a market segment).
So, FR&R is all-in. We like that. And we continue to watch, because when somebody makes a move like this it means the game's going to change. For better or for worse.