Matt Niswonger
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Staying true to our roots in a virtual world

By Matt Niswonger

IN RESPONSE TO MY ARTICLE IN THE LAST ISSUE (#103 Digital Apocalypse) we received more emails than usual. Readers unanimously rejected the idea that print media is inferior to digital media, and many let us know that they refuse to read ASJ on their phones and laptops and enjoy the more serene vibe of turning paper pages.

In addition to printing many of your emails, we compiled excerpts and took them with us to the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Colorado in late July. Outdoor Retailer Summer Market has traditionally been the place where the entire industry, from sleeping bag makers to kayak manufacturers and everybody in between, comes together. We wanted to show our current advertisers and some potential new advertisers how passionate you feel about reading ASJ in print and not spending any more of your precious time looking at screens.

After absorbing the heartfelt emails encouraging us to resist the digital onslaught and continue publishing the print version of ASJ, we feel energized and grateful. You gave us the courage to share some honest feedback with some important and influential companies in the outdoor industry. In return, many of the companies we talked to said they also feel pressured to commit way too much energy and money pandering to online environments like Facebook and Instagram when those digital environments increasingly seem antithetical to what the outdoor community stands for.

Specifically, what we all want as climbers, surfers, bikers, hikers and general adventurers is to spend long periods of time totally absorbed in the healing vibe of nature. The outdoor products we buy are simply tools to help us get out there and lose ourselves in the activities we love. ASJ is a way to keep the outdoor stoke alive by having a copy laying around the house so you can savor the articles bit by bit, and maybe see some cool ads along the way. If you are not interested in a particular ad then no biggie, just turn the page.

In contrast, advertising in the digital environment is designed to stalk us wherever we go. To show us more ads, our attention is pulled this way and that, and the content is designed to create an emotional reaction so we stay online for longer and longer periods of time. In the case of social media, there is a fleeting sense of feeling connected to others, but only if we work harder and harder in an endless quest to get more comments, likes, and shares. We feel exhausted, and in time the overall experience becomes negative.

All of that said, I am not some kind of anti-digital Luddite. I know there is a time and a place for pulling out our phones and researching something on Google or using a navigation app or checking out our peeps on Facebook once in a while. What I have a problem with is the constant pressure to share every aspect of our lives and feeling like I have to check my phone every five minutes or else face the dreaded “fear of missing out.”

As publishers of a magazine we were told years ago that print is going away and we need to put all our effort into capturing a digital audience. Accordingly I took a deep dive into social media so we can share our articles and draw readers to our website. After a couple of years of this I have come to the conclusion that spending any more than a small amount of time on social media is mutually exclusive with the true outdoor lifestyle.

As I shared in the last issue, I am also very concerned for the next generation. It’s hard for Cathy and I to embrace the concept of a digital magazine when we feel like so many kids and young adults are getting sucked down a digital rabbit hole from which they might never escape. We all know that the internet is a breeding ground for hatred and lies, and kids are the most vulnerable. In a nutshell, social media is just not something we want to be a part of, except on a limited basis.

Still, we have to make a compromise given the uncertain future of print media. Given the positive response from readers and advertisers, we will continue publishing the print version of ASJ as long as we can turn a profit. That said, I think it would be folly to continue to rely completely on advertising revenue to keep us afloat. Accordingly we have come up with an idea for another revenue stream that I’d love to hear your feedback on.

For years now we have been selling our trademarked “Earn Your Beer” T-shirts at outdoor events and festivals. What if we also started selling these and our other shirts online? We have seen companies like Life is Good do well in this space. What if we could help support our mission to get people outside and keep ASJ going through  revenue from T-shirt sales?

In my research I have found a supplier for T-shirts made from 100% recycled materials, and I have been impressed with the softness of the material. Could we help promote sustainable clothing while adding a new revenue stream to help us maintain and even expand the print version of ASJ?

Is this a good idea? If you have any suggestions please send me an email. If on the other hand you think this is a terrible idea, I’d like to hear that perspective too. More generally, what is your digital compromise? How do you balance your life in the digital age?

Send me an email, I’d love to hear from you: