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Backpacking Light Magazine Announces Discontinuation of Print Version

Publisher Ryan Jordan recalls moments worth celebrating.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2008-10-24 10:31:00-06

Backpacking Light Magazine Announces Discontinuation of Print Version

It is with mixed emotions that we announce today the discontinuation of what has been one of our flagship products since 2004: the print magazine. Details behind this decision can be found in the press release.

While it's a sad day, it's one worthy of positive reflection as well.

Issue 1's humble roots featured the article “Backpacking Alaska” by Peter Vacco, the first person to have walked the length of the Continental Divide from Mexico to the Chukchi Sea. Kevin Sawchuk wrote of his fastpacking trek across 200 miles of the JMT in four days in Issue 2. Justin Lichter's beautiful photography from the Great Divide Trail graced the pages of Issue 3, and Brian Frankle's contemplative cover of Issue 4 inspired us to discover our own Haydukes in the desert. Issue 5 featured a blazing Bushbuddy on the cover and began to focus on critical issues facing wilderness advocates: road building and commercialization of our National Parks. Issue 6 highlighted both the serious side of wilderness (the roadless Absarokas) and the very serious side of wilderness (lightweight techniques for brewing coffee), while Issue 7 featured Jason Geck swimming the Ipnavik River en route to his 500+ mile traverse of the Alaskan Arctic without resupply. We celebrated the grandest of wilderness residents, the grizzly bear, in Issue 8, packrafting in Issue 9, and BPL's Wilderness Trekking School in Issue 10. Issue 11 (to be mailed in mid-November) will feature the best photography we've ever published, and its final page is a fitting end to our print run: a photo of my 10-year old son, Chase, sitting down exhausted on the side of the trail after hiking late into the evening (photo above).

I sort of feel like Chase did in that photo when it comes to the print magazine: feeling rewarded for hiking a hard journey, but rather exhausted.

But like Chase did a few minutes after that photo was taken, I'll get up, grab a handful of GORP, start walking again, and BPL will continue its journey – this time, however, with a bit more focus. I'm really excited to move forward and redirect energy on things we've neglected in the past because of the print magazine: the website, our online content, and continued gear and apparel design and development. I'm also eager to lessen our energy footprint and minimizing printed waste is a large part of that.

I'm grateful for all of your support during our print magazine publishing run. It's a project I'm proud to have delivered to customers, and I know that I'll treasure my own copies while they occupy a pretty special spot on my bookshelf.

Ryan Jordan


"Backpacking Light Magazine Announces Discontinuation of Print Version," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2008-10-24 10:31:00-06.


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NEWS 10/24/08: BPL to Suspend Print Magazine Production, Will Refocus Energy to Online Content Development
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
NEWS 10/24/08: BPL to Suspend Print Magazine Production, Will Refocus Energy to Online Content Development on 10/24/2008 11:52:55 MDT Print View

Backpacking Light to Suspend Print Magazine Production, Will Refocus Energy to Online Content Development

Bozeman, Mont. - October 24, 2008 – Beartooth Media Group, Inc., announced today that it will suspend production of its print magazine (and the digital edition of that print magazine), Backpacking Light. Other operations, including its website,, its book publishing division (“Beartooth Mountain Press”), and the Backpacking Light range of house-branded gear and apparel, will remain business as usual.

Issue 11 will be the final issue mailed to domestic (U.S.) subscribers and issue 10 will be the final issue mailed to international subscribers. All issues remain available for single copy purchase at, and Issues 9-11 will remain available at existing newsstand locations throughout the U.S.

Reasons for discontinuing production of the print magazine include: rising costs, inability to meet production schedules, industry-wide declines in print media advertising and subscription revenues, increasing pressure from subscribers to have a “lightweight” footprint on the environment true to the company's vision, and the desire to refocus the company's energy back to its online media roots.

The company's President and CEO, Ryan Jordan, cites the current economic recession as a major factor in this decision. “Printing, transportation, and fulfillment cost increases over the past few years make publishing a print magazine of our size at an affordable price impossible without advertising,” Jordan said. “Now that advertisers are moving more of their ad dollars online, the ability to produce a high-quality, short run, niche publication requires substantial costs. It's not fair to our long-time customers, including our gear shop and online subscribers, to divert their dollars to unprofitable projects.”

In addition, the company has found it increasingly difficult to reconcile their print magazine footprint with their vision as an industry environmental leader. “We promote sustainability and responsible resource usage,” comments Jordan. “It's hard to do that when retailers and magazine distributors are destroying unsold copies of the magazine, and subscribers are throwing them away.” Jordan continues, “The printing industry is the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Add to this the the monumental transportation costs required to deliver printed matter from the factory to distributors, retailers, and subscribers, and the combined tax upon energy levels is pretty dramatic. We can't in good conscience be a part of that simply to increase our sales base and to serve the decreasing number of subscribers that demand that their information be delivered in print. The outdoor industry's addiction to paper – magazines, catalogs, hang tags – is completely counterproductive to their long term sustainability. We've made the decision to break away from that herd.”

Jordan states that the complexity of producing a print magazine has also taken its toll on the resources of a company that already produces one of the outdoor industry's largest web sites, manages a book publishing division, and its own brand of outdoor gear and apparel. “The print magazine was an experiment that diverted resources away from our core activities. Now it's time to end the experiment and reinvest our resources into serving and building our core business, and serving those customers that have been such an instrumental part of growing our company. As hard as it is to end the print magazine, it's an exciting time because we have so much to look forward to in the future. Keeping the print magazine afloat has inhibited us from doing some of the other things that we really wanted to do for our customers.” One of those things, cites Jordan, is expanding the depth and diversity of the editorial content published online at

Subscribers holding unfulfilled subscriptions will not be left in the dark. “We are committed to making sure that every subscriber to the print magazine will be taken care of,” says Karen Wilson, Backpacking Light's Customer Service Manager. “We have a subscription conversion and refund program in place that has already been communicated to our print subscribers.”

Backpacking Light was founded in 2001 and rapidly established itself as a leading online publisher in the outdoor industry during a time when other outdoor magazines were struggling with their identity. Jordan claims that outdoor magazines still haven't quite figured out how to respond to economic and environmental pressures. “As for Backpacking Light, we have no identity crisis anymore,” says Jordan. “We know what has worked, what our subscribers want, and where to go from here. I'm really excited for the future.”

Jordan provided further commentary in an article published at this morning.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Print magazine, what print magazine? on 10/24/2008 12:21:41 MDT Print View

I became an online and print member in May of this year.
I've never received a print magazine yet!
Won't make much difference to me then. I love paying for nothing!

Valentin Zill
(Valentin.Zill) - F

Locale: Europe
Sad thing on 10/24/2008 12:23:26 MDT Print View

Supending the Print mag makes me sad and angry at the same time, because your "refund policy" is worth nothing for me as an international customer. I've just ordered something a couple of hours ago, don't need anything else in the next months, means I can't use that coupon. And by the way, I never received issues 9 and 10!!! I don't think I'm gonna do business with you again. Fooling myself is cheaper. You should call Grant Sible and Ron Bell, they could teach you A LOT about customer service.

And btw: do you know how much energy is used just by pushing the "search" button on Google? The whole internet thing is not that environmentally responsible at all!

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Sad thing on 10/24/2008 12:26:05 MDT Print View

@Valentin: please review the policy carefully. You are entitled to a cash refund in lieu of the coupon of course, for the value of your prorated unfulfilled subscription. And if you have not been receiving issues, then you should be contacting customer service, so that we can at least find out what went wrong and have the opportunity to honor our commitment to resolve your complaint.

Edited by ryan on 10/24/2008 12:28:07 MDT.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Print magazine, what print magazine? on 10/24/2008 12:35:47 MDT Print View

@MikefaeDundee: if you did not receive copies of the magazine since May, then there may be a problem with your subscription record information. Please contact customer service so they can help you find out what's going on.

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Noooooooooo! on 10/24/2008 13:00:46 MDT Print View

I understand all of the so-called "reasons" for the decision, but I can't help but feel a deep sense of loss. There's nothing like thumbing through those crisp, brightly-colored pages as I lounge under my reading lamp, dreaming of the outdoors - I only hope that it might come back someday. If anybody needs me, I'll be quietly sobbing into my high-loft apparel, dampening it and ruining its insulating properties. Do you see what you've done!

Robert Stanek

Locale: Southeast, Atlanta, GA
Bravo! on 10/24/2008 13:03:19 MDT Print View

While I enjoy and subscribe to several magazines, I find the snippets of info on this site to be what I enjoy most, including quality feedback from members in the forums.

Honestly, the digital versions of the mag left something to be desired.

Not quite National Geographic quality (no offense meant to either party). I find digital mags to be difficult to read and digest in that particular format. I either like the full rag, or to seek smaller articles online.

So, in my case, I think you made a good choice here.

I'd enjoy seeing BPL put a little more focus on the web site as that's how I found BPL in the first place. The forums could be a bit more user friendly, and I'd love to see the site become more mobile enabled. (Yes, while occasionaly bored and without a good book, I'll read the forums on my Treo).

I also think you could find a happier medium for the yearly subscription price. My personal feeling is your "sweet spot" is more than $10, but less than $20.

Keep up the good work, and thanks for all that you do.

Blue _
(lrmblue) - MLife

Locale: Northeast (New England)
Print Magazine--R.I.P on 10/24/2008 13:05:08 MDT Print View

Even though the magazine was unreliable in meeting its scheduled publishing dates I am very sad to see it go. The quality of the magazine seemed to grow more mature with every issue and I had hopes that someday it would become something like the original “Backpacker Magazine” (during the early issues under William Kemsley). In any case, thanks for giving the venture an honest try and for having the courage to admit that it wasn’t working well enough to continue when it clearly wasn’t. I’m glad I will have a complete set in my library, assuming Issue 10 ever arrives and Issue 11 eventually finds its way to my mailbox– sorry, I couldn’t resist ;-).

Of course, now without the print magazine I am expecting even greater things online. Embrace the contradiction: Lightweight Backpacking—Heavyweight Content.

Edited by lrmblue on 10/24/2008 13:07:48 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
NEWS 10/24/08: BPL to Suspend Print Magazine Production, Will Refocus Energy to Online Content Development on 10/24/2008 13:07:28 MDT Print View

Keep in mind that our editorial content will now simply be delivered through the Web site rather than in a magazine. Think of this as being just one less place you have to look for good content ; )

David Dixon
Think this through please on 10/24/2008 13:12:57 MDT Print View

The fair thing to have done was not to have breached your contracts with those readers whom you promised print magazines. You can't legally or ethically make a change of policy retroactive in order to intentionally breach your contract and actually believe that no damages have resulted. The print magazine was the main reason I have continued, with some ambivalence, to subscribe.

Andrew Skurka
(askurka) - F
Thoughts on print on 10/24/2008 13:18:56 MDT Print View

Having a loose official relationship with BPL makes me slightly biased, but, Ryan, I think this is overall a wise decision and the reimbursement program seems very fair. When magazines fold they usually screw over the subscriber, but I'm pleased to read that BPL is taking a long-term and honorable view about it -- it says something about the company I think. (Whether everyone reads the full policy before commenting angrily on this thread is another issue...").

The most important benefit of terminating the print magazine is that BPL can focus entirely on the website, which has always been BPL's core in the eyes of nearly all subscribers, staff, and contributors. True, a print magazine could expand the reach of BPL and lightweight backpacking, and eventually grow BPL's bottom line more than the online version. But print requires A LOT of resources (time, money, energy), and BPL was only marginally able to give it what it needed, maybe. The demands of both print and online seemed to often run BPL thin.

As a larger point, this action by BPL seems to be indicative of what is happening nationwide and worldwide right now. I can't help but notice the conspicuous increase in "SALE" signs in retailer windows and big balloons at car lots on the Front Range of Colorado over the last month. I'm not on the inside of any company, but I have to wonder whether these actions are correlated with actual sale trends, whether it's pre-emptive, or something in between. I think a lot more people might be forced to adopt the lightweight/simple lifestyle soon if things do not miraculously get better.

Edited by askurka on 10/24/2008 13:23:39 MDT.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
mag on 10/24/2008 13:20:56 MDT Print View

I read it online, so I'm not affected. It's a business decision, do what you gotta do. Best of luck.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Think this through please on 10/24/2008 13:26:25 MDT Print View

@Talusman: We will be issuing refunds for unfulfilled subscriptions, which is the fairest mechanism for us to honor our subscribers in the context of an economic recession that has had a dramatic and immediate impact on the print magazine industry. We won't be the only small magazines ending their print runs before the economy takes its toll a little deeper, and the chance that subscribers will see any refund of their subscription price from those magazines will be extremely slim. Alpinist is a case in point right now: the entire company shut its doors.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: mag on 10/24/2008 13:26:29 MDT Print View

Not a bad way to go if it gives me more content to cruise on the site....

Darren Christie
(whitespider1066) - F
Sad to see it come to an end on 10/24/2008 13:32:06 MDT Print View

Well I will be sad to see the magazine end, and will order the final issue once it is out in the US. Would of liked to of had that as well being an international subscriber but as I said I will order a copy anyway when available.
I think the original two that complained about not getting copies should of contacted the BPL support people. Who when I have not received a copy have always responded within 24 hours, and either given an explanation why I have not had it (ie it has not been sent due to printers missing it), or sent a new copy no quibbles.
I think the offer to compensate folks is more than generous. And I will be taking them up on it.
I do hope that this puts in a strong position to weather out the current economic downturn.

David Dixon
I've read the policy and still have questions. on 10/24/2008 13:36:33 MDT Print View

1). Doesn't your press release indicate that you will continue to produce the magazine in electronic form?
2). So, aren't we rally talking about printing and mailing costs.
3. Couldn't you say thet one year from today you will not take new one-year subscriptions to the print magazine and then print the next years issues in order to keep your promise?
4. What will the cost of subscription be when it is time for me to renew in March?
5). Will the electronic magazine subscription be seperate from the BPL membership cost?

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Magazine no more. on 10/24/2008 13:47:06 MDT Print View

To Darren Christie.
Being one of the 'two' that you mention, i would like to respond. I have read on here that the magazine was 'laid back' in its delivery. Being 'laid back' myself, i didn't worry. I just figured that 2 or 3 issues would arrive at once.
Don't judge me when you don't know me!
I hope the online mag and website go from strength to strength.:)

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Re: I've read the policy and still have questions. on 10/24/2008 13:47:15 MDT Print View

David, I believe you misinterpreted the press release. Backpacking Light will no longer be offering a magazine in either a print format nor a digital format.

However, contributors and staff will continue to offer up quality editorial content for display on our Web site as part of our subscription-based membership. At this time there will be no change in the cost of an online subscription.

All free areas of the Web site will remain intact, the online store will continue to operate just as before as well.

Edited by sharalds on 10/24/2008 13:48:57 MDT.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: I've read the policy and still have questions. on 10/24/2008 13:50:26 MDT Print View

A followup. Let's define terminology.

PRINT magazine - Backpacking Light Magazine, 96-page quarterly magazine delivered as hardcopy to "Print" subscribers and for single copy sales at newsstands.

DIGITAL magazine - the digital edition of the PRINT magazine. Delivered to all print subscribers as part of their subscription.

ONLINE membership - the annual subscription to the website that includes access to members only content (M) and discounts on gear shop purchases.

Note that the content published in the PRINT/DIGITAL quarterly is not the same content that is published ONLINE.

With the discontinuation of the PRINT/DIGITAL magazine, we will redirect content publication to ONLINE.

What is being discontinued = PRINT/DIGITAL.

What will not change - ONLINE.

Do you see the confusion here? I hope so. It's not a product delivery strategy that reflects the light and simple nature of a company that advocates light and simple!

Edited by ryan on 10/24/2008 13:52:30 MDT.

A. B.
Re: I've read the policy and still have questions. on 10/24/2008 13:52:09 MDT Print View

I gathered that the magazine will cease to exist and they will focus on more online content.

Also, you can't force someone to produce something and it is hard to argue damages for lack of a magazine. A refund should be sufficient in this case. Or are you implying that the cancellation of the magazine has damages greater than the cost of the subscription?