Backpacker eats Climbing, Urban Climber & Mountain Gazette ("Less filling," says Dorn)

Yesterday, Active Interest Media (publishers of Backpacker and SNEWS) added three titles to their "outdoor group" roster: Climbing, Urban Climber, and Mountain Gazette. According to their PR, the additions will increase the group's combined readership to more than 1.35 million and its online audience to 430,000 unique visitors a month. In addition to being the editor of Backpacker, Jon Dorn is the general manager at AIM, and was nice enough to answer some wicked questions about the acquisition.

* Why is this acquisition a big deal?
It brings together two of the most venerable brands in the outdoor industry—Backpacker and Climbing—and two brands that share so much in the way of values, terrain, technique, and gear that you wonder why the combination hasn’t happened earlier. From a reader’s or advertiser’s perspective, it’s a big deal because we’ll be able to provide content and services we couldn’t as single titles. It’s a classic sum-of-the-parts equation. An example: The combined network of gear testers that we can now call on to review products in all of the Outdoor Group magazines is much broader and deeper. And that principle will extend across everything we do, from mobile marketing events to skills books to trade media and more. On a personal level, this acquisition is a big deal for a lot of us because we’re getting paid to pursue yet another passion—we’re all multisport enthusiasts here, and the continued growth of the Outdoor Group provides another outlet for adventure.

* If print is dead, why are you guys buying other magazines?
It’s a sign of our affection for the Northeast Kingdom and all of our friends in Vermont and Maine who depend on revenue from the paper industry. But seriously, who said print is dead? There’s certainly been a winnowing of magazine titles—those that didn’t have a solid relationship with their readers or a coherent editorial premise went belly up last year—but media consumers trust magazines more than websites, and print advertising is rebounding strongly in most segments of the magazine market. We have a very high degree of confidence that print remains essential, and that our company has a very solid blueprint—one that’s grounded in service journalism and an absolute adherence to the needs of our enthusiasts and industry. And, by the way, that’s a trick question, Drew, you sneaky SOB. You know we’re not solely buying or making magazines. Our business is successfully evolving to be much more diversified than that, and part of the reason we love this deal is the opportunity for growth we see in web, mobile, and events.

* What's the structure of the Outdoor Group? And how is it different or similar to a traditional "big publisher"?
The Outdoor Group structure is based on height. I’m the tallest, so I run the show as general manager. Kent Ebersole is next tallest, so he’s group publisher, in charge of all sales and marketing. Anthony Cerretani comes third, so he’s in charge of the web operations. And so on. But jesting aside, you’re probably wondering mostly about Climbing and Urban Climber. Mark Crowther, from Skram Media, continues as publisher, reporting to Kent. Dougald MacDonald, former editor and publisher of Rock & Ice and co-founder of Trail Runner, joins the team as editorial director, reporting to me. Our structure is not unusual in the publishing world, but what is atypical is the degree of local management we’re permitted by our bosses at Active Interest Media (our parent company). The company was founded on the idea that you hire people who know their industries and let them run their brands in a way that matches the needs and personalities of their communities. That’s makes us pretty flexible and guarantees that a really unique young title like Urban Climber won’t be subject to a corporate cookie-cutter template.

* At 6'11, do you have a hard time finding sweaters that fit you? I'm only 6'4 and it's a pain in the ass.
Sleeve length is a serious problem, Drew. Like me, you probably suffer from frostbitten wrists. It’s that gap between sleeve and glove that’s prevented me from climbing the 8,000-meter peaks. If I weren’t 6’6”, who knows where I’d be.

* Is the natural conclusion of this news that Backpacker is making tons of money?
Wait a minute—how can you allege that print is dead, then turn around and ask that?! [Bemused laughter ensues.] Here’s what I can tell you: Backpacker is a profitable and very solid business, and we all work extremely hard to keep it that way. We’re fortunate to be part of a company that is able to expand when others are shrinking, which is testimony as much as anything to how careful we’ve been in the last several years and how creative we can be in making acquisitions happen.

* Hostetter likes to tell me that she hired you at Backpacker. Is that true?
It is true, and for a song. I took a $10,000 pay cut when I started back in ’97, but it was the best decision I ever made. Mid-July will mark 13 years of living the dream…

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