Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Subscription service

The glory days of magazines may be officially over and sadly, I couldn't argue. A couple of decades ago a friend introduced me to Outside magazine and in many ways it changed parts of my life. Not only was the subject matter inherently interesting, the sheer quality of the writing was completely unexpected and absolutely blew me away. It introduced me to writers like Tim Cahill, Randy Wayne White, Mark Jenkins, Ian Frazier, and many more. Their books are still on my shelves.

Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer in my mail box. At some point, many of the same writers began writing for Men's Journal and who knows what else. So I subscribed to both magazines because, dammit, I couldn't get enough of the kind of travel reportage slash memoir slash adventure stories and for a while there, things weren't so bad. But then Outside switched editors a few times and grew more and more to look like Men's Journal. The problem was that Men's Journal was steadily growing more like People.

I don't want to see Harrison Ford on one of the magazine's covers, and then the other's a month or so later. I want to read about traveling to the source of the Blue Nile by hot air balloon, dodging natives, wild animals, and poachers with automatic rifles. I don't want to read about a celebrities air plane or his ranch in Montana. I don't want to read magazines that for a quarter of the year could be subtitled The Journal of Lance Armstrong.

In short, they took the best parts of both magazines (which in Outside's case was damn near all of it) and homogenized and pasteurized them away into dribble, more cult of celebrity rag than a chronicle of an outdoor and active lifestyle. They were real and they became phony. National Geographic Adventure was an excellent attempt at doing something that had a resemblance to the classic Outside but they up and folded before its time.

I had long ago canceled my Men's Journal magazine by not renewing. I was still holding on to my memories of Outside, though, and had a three year subscription going at the time I finally had enough. I went from devouring every issue I could find, reading parts of it multiple times, to paging through it and dropping it in the recycle bin. This was the fate of the magazine who had brought us the single most fascinating article I've ever seen in a magazine, Jon Krakauer's account of the Everest tragedy in 1996, the basis for the book Into Thin Air. It also published the story Sebastian Junger wrote that later became his bestseller, The Perfect Storm.

Because of Outside I've bought virtually all the books recounting the '96 Everest disaster, which led to many books about Everest, which led to books about climbing other peaks (such as the deadlier K2), and on and on. The travel/adventure section of my book shelves is over twenty feet long (a lot of books).

And the bastards went and changed into Good Housekeeping on me. I canceled my subscription because really, by that time it was a fairly worthless chunk of paper. I'd hoped when I sent in my cancellation that they'd wake up, fire the current editor, and bring someone in to bring the magazine back to the glory days. Oddly enough, they merely sent me a refund check.

Reading matter that is so exciting, so enthralling, so magnetic that it can permeated what you think, what you do, affect your entire lifestyle, is such a rare and wonderful thing. Indeed, what better thing can come from the printed word?

Sylvester Stallone movies. Stallone pioneered the concept of violent action in short, hour and twenty minute movies. His point was that theater owners could squeeze in an extra showing and thereby make more money. Didn't matter that the movies sucked and continue to do so to this day; it's not about art or even craft, it's about demographics. Outside followed the same path in magazine-land, they sold out to what they thought was mass market appeal at the expense of its core consumer base. So I don't go to Sylvester Stallone movies, and I no longer read Outside. One of those things makes me sad.


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