Magazine Spotlight: Outdoor Life

When a magazine announces that it is increasing its frequency from 9 to 10 issues a year, it is usually a sign of a startup publication growing bigger, and it's usually not that big of a deal.

But when that magazine has been around since 1898, that sort of expansion is worth noting. The formerly sleepy Outdoor Life, has undergone a renaissance of sorts over the last few years since it was acquired by Time Inc.'s Time4 Media. And the resulting ad boom has led the title to expand its frequency and raise its profile.

Pages for the magazine have been up big over the last two years. PIB revenue jumped 37 percent in 2003 versus 2002, and pages continue to climb through September of this year. Newsstand sales were surprisingly hot last year, leading to an increase in rate base (from 900,000 to 925,000) at the start of this year.

Delivering nearly a million mostly male readers each month would appear to warrant Outdoor Life the attention granted by the media to the Maxim's and FHMs of the world. But Outdoor Life's content and history sometimes make it difficult to sell.

"The outdoor market we are seeing is sometimes hard to grasp in Manhattan and Los Angeles, says group publisher Tom Ott. "But there are 40 million people involved in hunting and fishing."

Plus, Outdoor Life did not always have a reputation for quality production. For years, the back-half of the book used to be printed on black and white, poor-quality paper stock - "like cardboard," Ott said. In addition, the magazine carried far too much advertising for hunting and fishing equipment. "Their used to be 10 fewer pages of edit per issue," Ott said.

Since the Time Inc. purchase, investment in the magazine has reenergized the editorial product," Ott said. "There is no doubt it was a tired brand. The old owners were very bottom-line orientated - The editorial product today is not comparable to what it was four years ago. We hear that on a lot of sales calls."

The new look is having an impact on those sales calls. Ott claims that 75 percent of the magazine's ads are from non-sporting goods clients, which was not the case years ago. "In the past, unless it was tobacco or a pickup truck, there wasn't a great effort from our sales staff," he said. In recent years, Outdoor Life has broken previously sparse categories such as apparel and pharmaceuticals.

Besides putting out a much better product that has attracted ad dollars, Ott believes that the magazine is benefiting from a general raised consciousness about, well, outdoor life.

He says that the whole outdoor thing has been lifted by an explosion of media properties, as ESPN showcases the Great Outdoor Games and the Outdoor Life Network tracks every move of Lance Armstrong (OLN is a partner of Outdoor Life, it both licenses the magazine's the name and broadcasts a branded content block).

Also, Ott has been tracking a post 9-11 trend toward more pure pursuits, a "yearning for a traditional lifestyle," he said. "Outdoor sports are family, generational sports. A lot of that has risen to the top."

The generational aspect of the magazine's readership offers Ott something different to sell to advertisers than the current laddie mags. "I think Maxim serves a purpose," he said. "We cross demographic lines a bit more. [Plus] advertisers don't want that environment sometimes."