Outside Media -- Which Has A Legitimately Innovative Idea -- Hits Turbulence

When Pocket Outdoor Media acquired Outside Magazine and related assets in February 2021, the sky was the limit.

The deal significantly expanded the scope of its audience and the range of services it offered to customers, the Boulder, Colorado-based company said at the time. It even took on the name of its marquee acquisition, Outside.

Along with Outside Media, the company announced several other acquisitions at the same time, including Outside TV, Gaia GPS, a mobile mapping and navigation app for backcountry adventurers and professionals, event registration platforms athleteReg, and the bicycling magazine Peloton. These brands would join existing Pocket brands including Ski, Yoga Journal, Women’s RunningTriathleteBackpacker, Climbing and Clean Eating. The company now has more than 30 brands in all.

Combined, the new assets would create a platform whose scale across television, mobile, desktop, and print would be unparalleled in the outdoor, endurance, fitness, and wellness markets.



The concept was legitimately innovative, which is a relatively rare occurrence in magazine-related media. Together, they’d round out a robust membership offering called Active Pass, (later changed to Outside Plus, a $99 annual offering that would give consumers a bundle of premium digital content, print subscriptions, event entries and photography, books, gear discounts, a personalized feed, and interactive experiences with editors, pro athletes, coaches, and other experts.

“This is a transformational day for our company and our customers,” the new Outside’s CEO Robin Thurston said  at the time. “Everything we do is driven by a belief that a hike, run, ride, or yoga practice can change your life, and these new brands will help us fulfill our mission to build the world’s best consumer experience across a wide range of activities.”

Fast-forward 15 months, and things aren’t going as planned. Late last week, the company told the staff via a video conference on Friday that it was laying off 15% of its 580-person workforce or about 85 to 90 people, as part of a transition away from print and toward a digital media enterprise.

The news was reported in the Denver Business Journal and the regional magazine 5280, among others.

As part of the transition to digital, 5280 reported that Outside is planning to reduce print publications by 80%, according to a letter Ski magazine editor Sierra Shafer posted on Twitter and subsequently deleted. The cycling magazines Beta and Peloton and the women’s fitness magazine Oxygen will be shuttered within the next six months, 5280 reported. Other print magazines will publish only special issues.

“Outside has grown tremendously over the past two years, with 20 acquisitions and a quadrupled paid membership to over 800,000 paid subscribers,” Outside’s PR firm told 5280. “But growth often necessitates change. We are making a concerted shift from a high volume of print to a greater focus on immersive video and digital storytelling. With this shift, Outside made the difficult but necessary decision to reduce headcount.”

In the video meeting last week, Thurston said downsizing the venture-backed company allows for a “longer runway” in advance of an IPO.


3 comments about "Outside Media -- Which Has A Legitimately Innovative Idea -- Hits Turbulence".
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  1. T Bo from Wordpress, May 24, 2022 at 8:02 a.m.

    The print-magazine business is collapsing faster than most expected, but maybe the scaling frenzy is also misplaced?

  2. Ginger Cookie from Consultant, May 24, 2022 at 10:37 a.m.

    Yes, agree, given the point of how challenging the accuracy is to predict margins across (with this example) 30+ brands...and where the efficiencies lie in validating "active" and "quality" readership coverage in print, from an ad buyer standpoint. 

    Coupled with all the M&A activity and the "ultimate" success of ending this article with the crowning glory of an IPO....again, where are the margins and general COB being a very short time Pocket Media execs hugely overestimated the heft of print...especially given that its been so pervasive over the past 7-10 years of print's continuing demise...niche or mass audience driven.   I'd be curious how many of these 30 brands are the market leader in their respective categories, for sure there are the obvious brands...but Clean Eating..?? 

  3. Steven Cohn from Ex-Media Industry Newsletter, May 24, 2022 at 4:50 p.m.

    Tony: This is sad. Outside, under Larry Burke, was the most successful independently owned magazine for decades.  Interestingly, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner launched Outside in 1977, but he quickly sold it to Burke (RS' profitable years were ahead of it), who had launched the rival Mariah. Burke merged the two, but kept the Outside title under the Mariah Media corporate name. He embellished the Outside image by relocating the editorial headquarters from Chicago to Santa Fe, N.M., in the early-1990s (advertising remained in New York), and I recall that most staff members made the move, which said much about Burke's character.
        Wenner regretted selling Outside, and "getting back" at Burke was the impetus for him and then-partner Kent Brownridge to launch Men's Journal in 1992. MJ had many incarnations (from outdoors-to-GQ-like and in-between), but it never matched Outside's success in the 1990s and 2000s.
        As you wrote, the changing magazine-media environment led Burke to sell Outside in 2019.  He may or may not have been the best magazine executive, but he definitely was among the most popular.

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