That was then and this is now
In the beginning was Crags. And Crags begat High and her bastard sister On the Edge, who in turn, begat Climb. And the Lord said unto its high priests, ‘take up thy parchments and make them light, for I have seen the future, and it is a light which can be read by people throughout this land and beyond’.
Yes.... Climb magazine is going digital! The glossy magazine which in one guise or another has been a staple of the British climbing scene for over 40 years, is being pulled from the news-stands by its publishers, Greenshires, and will soon become a free online media which leaves Climber as the only commercial climbing publication left. Other outdoor paper publications such as Trail and TGO continue of course and the BMC’s Summit magazine will still be available as a traditional paper journal but with such a respected publication as Climb joining the digital revolution, it seems only a matter of time before all outdoor publications are digitalised.
Of course, the digital revolution in journalism is not just confined to small circulation publications within the climbing media. A few years ago a senior editor at the Guardian told me that the paper will be a digital only publication by the end of the decade. With only two and a half years of the decade left, I would say that it’s more than likely that this forecast will come true by 2020. After all, The Independent went digital last year and around the world, many traditional newspapers and journals are also following this route.
It's not that hard to see why. The cost of putting out a digital publication is a fraction the cost of producing a paper publication. Furthermore, the circulation of a free to view digital journal will be far in advance of a traditional paper publication. When Rupert Murdoch put his Times newspaper behind a pay wall, it lost 90% of its readers. Pity the poor Times journalist whose work is seen by a tiny fraction of those reading an article written by a Guardian journalist. The inevitable knock on effect on advertising as yet, hasn’t persuaded Murdoch to drop his greedy and parsimonious policy but it's hard to see why an advertiser would want to pay the same rates to a publication hidden behind a pay wall with its limited readership, than it would pay a free to view site like the Guardian, Independent or any of the free to view tabloids? Murdoch's S*n being an obvious exception in the Tabloid market.
Returning to the outdoor media.For nearly two decades, traditional journals have seen online media like the leviathan that is UK Climbing eat into its readership. Young people are more and more likely to get their news, views and information from digital sources. Many of those who go on the UKC site would never consider buying a glossy publication for they would say, ‘what’s the point’. I can read articles and access forums on UKC so why pay four quid for a magazine which might only have a couple of articles in that interest me?
It's a problem for traditional climbing magazines in that over recent decades, climbing has splintered into ever more distinct sub categories. Traditionally a magazine like High or Climber just covered rock and winter climbing, hillwalking and maybe mountain skiing. Today you have to add, bouldering, sports, dry tooling, deep water soloing etc into the mix and very few people are interested in every area of activity. Some people purely boulder and never go near a rope while others wouldn’t be seen dead on a bolted sports route. Throw in the surge in interest in mountain and road biking which increasingly is attracting climbers into the ranks of the lycra brigade, and you have a difficult juggling act to perform.
On top of the competition from a commercial enterprise like UKC, is the continuing growth a development of non-commercial blogs and blogazines like Footless Crow which while in no way replicating the varied content of a magazine like Climb, given its specialised role, nevertheless, offers itself as another outlet for quality writing. For example, this week on FC, highly respected mountaineering veteran and former BMC president Dennis Gray, is reviewing Bernadette McDonald’s Vertebrate published ‘The Art of Freedom’. Twenty years ago a review like this would have gone into High or Climber, or at least a club journal.
One thing I do hope the new digital Climb achieves. I truly hope given its status within the British climbing scene, it could offer itself as a thoughtful alternative to UKC which I’ve likened to a Soviet era supermarket in the past. ‘Come on in and buy all the pickled cabbage you like, so long as its UKC branded pickled cabbage’! Back in the day I vaguely remember a short lived rival site to UKC which I’m sure was owned by the Guardian’s current IT editor-whose name escapes me at the moment? Lack of competition reduces creativity in any field so I for one will be wishing Digital Climb all the success in the world as it strides into the future and hopefully offers itself as a quality all round mountain media with its own unique digital identity.