Backpacking Light Print vs. Online Magazines: Vision for 2006 and Beyond

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Backpacking Light Print vs. Online Magazines: Vision for 2006 and Beyond

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    Carol Crooker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
    Robert Brookshire


    Thanks for the article. I didn’t realize that there was an ongoing debate about the online vs. print BPL content, but I’ve had some questions about the two formats myself. For a long time after I subscribed to BPL online, I wondered what was happening with the magazine and thought that it would simply be hard copies of the online content.

    However, as I’ve seen the print magazine develop (through the obligatory fits and spurts), I’ve come to see where BPL intends to go with both versions. At first, I was upset that I wouldn’t be receiving each issue of the print version. Back when I subscribed, it was generally understood that online subscribers would also receive the print magazine as well. I stopped worrying about this when I realized that the print magazine was carrying totally different material (in most regards) and that it was being published at very high quality.

    I am already familiar with print publications that have small circulation numbers. I’ve been a subscriber when some of these have failed and know that the endeavor cost the owner(s) dearly, both in dollars and stress. All of these publications enjoyed very high content quality, though they often could not afford the printing quality that BPL Print offers. One commonality was their lack of advertising revenue combined with their constant battle for subcribers that could easily subscribe to “competitive” magazines for less than half the price.

    The truth is that subsribers of the typical magazine complain about the barrage of ads and the lap cards that are littered throughout each issue, yet those same subscibers are not willing to pay 2 or 3 times the price. More of them will cancel their subscription because of a rate increase than will do so because of the ridiculous advertising.

    I think that BPL is largely right on track with their efforts at building a high quality print magazine based on subscription/retail revenue. I applaud the effort and am quite happy with the compromise that BPL online subscribers receive a discounted rate on the print magazine. This is a perfectly fair business model and I hope that subscribers of either format can understand that BPL is financing these endeavors without the usual submission to adverisor interests and loan demands. We don’t need another Ba**packer magazine, thank you very much.

    BPL is bravely trying to forge their own way with their business models and I commend them for it. I’m sure that there will be numerous challenges and changes along the way, but I think that once customers see the quality (it ain’t cheap to print high-res full color!) of the print magazine, they will at least understand why it costs extra.

    I admit that my first online subscription was partly swayed by the offering of the print magazine (a year or more before issue #1 appeared), but I think that BPL tries hard to provide worthwhile content to their online-only subscribers. Sure, there may always be room for improvement, but I ask anyone to point to a similar website that can offer what BPL online does or to a similar magazine that offers what BPL print does. Whether we are all totally satisfied with BPL or not, they have no competitor. Nobody offers such an up-to-date and informative website and nobody that I know of offers a print magazine the caliber of BPL.

    Best of luck,
    Robert Brookshire

    Robert Beach


    Just received your WORDY article trying to explain/justify/whatever. It is so long I can’t read it all. I suspect the content could be reduced to a dozen or two bullets. I subscribed? some time ago by paying $25 and became a premium member whatever that is. So what did I subscribe to? Offline? Is the print version available to me? If I want the print version do I have to get it via snailmail? You really have confused me.

    Elliot Lockwood


    Hi Robert,

    “I subscribed? some time ago by paying $25 and became a premium member whatever that is.”

    Premium membership gives you:
    * Access to all article content at
    * Discounts on gear sold in the gear shop

    Note that “all article content at” excludes “offline” material from the print magazine.

    “So what did I subscribe to? Offline? Is the print version available to me?”

    Not offline, but online content. The print version is not available to you.

    “If I want the print version do I have to get it via snailmail?”

    Yes and no. “Print” signifying a physical magazine rather than digital, it must be mailed. However, individual articles are available as downloadable “PDF Reprints” here:

    Karl Keating
    BPL Member


    Unlike Robert, I appreciated the length of the letter.

    If you want to explain something clearly, you need to use the right amount of words. Too few, and you end up with bullet points that don’t deal completely enough with readers’ concerns.

    All of Robert’s questions would have been answered had he finished reading the letter, which, though long, was not too long. (If he thought the letter was too wordy, I wonder what he must think of BPL magazine, which has far more words.)

    If anything, I’d like to see even more words in the magazine, though not at the expense of photos or other graphics. I think this can be done fairly easily.

    For example, in the 18-page interview with Isaac Wilson (Issue 3), the questions and answers are greatly and unnecessarily indented, resulting in one-eighth of the text space going to waste–the equivalent of two full pages over the length of the article. I recommend modifying the format: Leave the questions and answers full-width, but include a blank space just above them.

    Similar modifications could be made elsewhere. Page 16 of that issue shows one possibility. Half of the page consists of a bulleted and indented section of text. In fact, the text is doubly indented, as compared with the standard indentation of the first line of paragraphs. It would be enough to indent these paragraphs singly, either without bullet points or with bullet points that are placed at the left margin.

    I know these are small matters of layout, but, if taken cumulatively and consistently, they would mean as much as five percent more text in an issue, with no diminishment of the graphics. Aside from Robert, perhaps, I think all of the readers would like more words rather than fewer.

    Miguel Arboleda
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan



    Thank so much for the clarification. That’s a great description of what sounds like a sound business model. Given the opportunity, I wouldn’t hesitate to invest in your business.

    As a subscriber, though, I feel that you didn’t touch on the (my) primary frustration: not being told that the products are different until after I’ve paid for one of them.

    I feel that your business model is “your business” in the sense that it’s none of mine. I’m pleased to read that BPL as an organization is sound, sustainable, and growing without having to leverage itself too much. I’m glad that you’ll be spreading lightweight backpacking to the world for a long time to come.

    However, as stated in your article, you publish two *different* publications under effectively the *same* name. (Semantic juggling aside, they’re both called “Backpacking Light.”) And you do *not* make the distinction obvious to the prospective purchaser.

    As your article states, this publishing “model” is utterly atypical and very much unexpected. A consumer can easily be surprised to find that the online Backpacking Light that he has paid for omits significant content, and that he must pay again if he wants to read it. (See Chaff forum for evidence that this phenomenon is repeated and widespread.)

    The *reasons* for differentiating the products are sound. Not making this differentiation *clear* before money has been spent is irresponsible and unjustifiable.

    I’m (re-) stating this in hopes that it will help further your understanding of the frustrations of some of your subscribers.

    You’ve described your business drivers and revenue model in exquisite detail, but could you comment on why you’re selling two very different magazines with the same name and not putting a warning about that on the shopping page?


    >As a subscriber, though, I feel that you didn’t touch on the (my) primary frustration:

    Whine, whine, whine…

    Stephen Parmenter
    BPL Member


    Locale: OH

    Because you either: a) do not take the time to read, b) or to comprehend what you are reading; doesn’t make it their obligation to reimburse you. I thought they did a very clear job of delineating the two subscriptions.

    Ken Helwig
    BPL Member


    Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA

    people get over it. If you don’t want to subscribe to the online service then don’t. I have for 3 years now and will continue. As for the magazine? This is my second year of subscription. It is your choice!


    Read what? Are you joking?

    When a non-member loads an article, he gets a Subscribe Now link. Click it and he gets a description of this product:

    **** Online Subscription (Premium Membership) – ONE YEAR****

    …at the bottom is the option to buy this product:

    ****Beartooth Mountain Press Backpacking Light PRINT Magazine (Annual Subscription)****

    What tells me that they’re two completely different products?

    How is that not extraordinarily ambiguous?

    These people publish a print magazine and sell an “online subscription.” I feel it is unethical not to make it clear that they are totally different publications.

    Check the Chaff forum, guys. It’s not like I’m one dummy feeling sorry for himself about $25 that he lost by being in a hurry. This happens a lot, and to a cross-section of members.


    If you just put this article’s cartoon on the purchase page, it would probably clear up a lot of the ambiguity and frustration. :)

    As it is, the cartoon describes me about a month after I paid the publishers of the BPL Print Magazine for what they call an “online subscription”.

    Just replace the caption with: “WTF?”

    Scott Ashdown


    Locale: United Kingdom

    I think a lot of confusion has arisen simply through the use of the word “Magazine.”

    With a print publication being in existence, I don’t think it’s appropriate to describe the website as a “Magazine” as well.

    I hope the print magazine works well for BPL but also hope that the online website content doesn’t suffer as a result.

    There is always the risk that due to the time critical deadlines that magazines need to meet, BPL will use more of its effort to create the content for the magazine. After all, with a magazine, your product sits in its entirety in the customers hand and you get judged accordingly. Poor content in the magazine and your customers disappear quickly. With websites, its maybe a little easier to let time scales slip and subsequently the service you offer.

    Much of the BPL website is available to non premium members and so BPL needs to make sure that the premium content warrants the fee. Gear reviews, forums and discounted gear in them selves wont do it. They can all be found using any search engine.

    I hope that BPL really harnesses the power of the web to deliver quality content.

    The unconnected UK site is a comercial concern that sells lightweight gear, yet they offer podcasts of a lightweight backpacking nature. There are new ones all the time and they are free! There is even one with Ryan Jordan. If they can manage this type of multi media for free, i’m sure can manage something along these lines for its premium customers.

    I hope that BPL will look to the full range of multimedia abilities of the Web to deliver its content in new and exciting ways in the future.

    Good luck to both publications but lets hope its not at the expense of producing two mediocre products instead of one great one!!!

    We’ll all have to wait and see and hope the planned editorial content emerges as indicated!!!!

    [Edited for spelling]

    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest

    >>I don’t think it’s appropriate to describe the website as a “Magazine.” [emphasis mine]

    You have a point. “Magazine” alone might be a bit misleading to some.

    Better would be “On-line Magazine” or “E-zine” as some professional medical/nursing publications i’m familar with use.

    A simple solution to a simple problem, N’est pas?

    Neal Solomon


    I like both on-line and print versions.

    They should both be included for the same price.

    Keep in mind that the print version will cost far more to produce, and contrarily, the on-line version has economies of scale; after a certain limited point, it costs editors nothing more to have the on-line version.

    My suggestion is that the on-line version should be FREE to everyone so that they can develop a loyal base to which to market distinctive products and services.

    That would be a smart management strategy similar to other highly effective business models.

    The print version, on the other hand, with its higher relative quality and costs, can pursue a different strategy, but the two can be cross-marketed.

    It would be nice to have some business (and marketing) acument attached to such a great market niche as BPL.

    But alas, we pay and pay and pay. I don’t know anyone who isn’t frustrated by this parallel and obligatory payment model, not a thing you want for loyal customers if you want to remain in business.

    To sum up: On-line should be FREE. Charge for print version, but you get what you pay for. Free version should be used to cross-market stuff that will more than pay for itself. By being free, it will have twenty times more followers. That is a successful model.

    Bill Fornshell
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Texas

    I have been a member here for a couple of years and consider the “on-line” membership cost of $24.95 to be nothing when compared to the cost of other things in my life. I think I have saved that cost in member discounts over the time I have been a member.

    As for the Print Mag as a member it has cost me $14.99 for my 4 issues. I hope it turns out to really be 4 issues. My year has passed and I believe I am still going to get issue 4 when it goes to the mail. At near $4.00 an issue I have NO problem with that cost.

    While I have not been happy with the subject of all articles (this is in reference to non-backpacking light content) the articles have all been well written.

    The combined cost of $40 (on-line and print) a year is so little. I don’t have a cell-phone, I don’t have cable-TV, I do have a really nice Apple computer and DSL.

    I would support if the membership was $100 a year.



    Yes it was a rather wordy explaination of the differances but a well appreciated effort to help know the difference. It would be much more clear if the the On-line publication was advertised as an E-zine and not a magazine. In this day of Global information transfer and BPL getting out the word on a timely basis of cutting edge technology it would make more rationality IMO to say E-zine.

    And as closing note now I have to do is subscribe to the printed form and help promote the benefits of Light weight backpacking and hope that more people catch the wave and keep it going and make the equipment manafacturers realize that there is benefit in promoting the light weight way.

    Rex Baum

    Coin Page
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southeastern USA

    Print issue 4 is good! Congratulations. I especially like the articles that try to help broaden lightweight backpacking to a larger audience: kids, and couples (the double wall tent review). I enjoyed the photos of the Hayduke trail – gives me a new life list trail to add to my list. Kudos to Editor Colon.
    As far as print vs online, I agree with others above that the cost is nothing. If you can reach a broader audience through retail outlets then I’m all for it. I also found the style of issue 4 to be decidely more readable and less technical than online. I just enjoyed finishing it with my morning cup of coffee. But I still check online a couple times a week to make sure I’m not missing anything. Best Wishes

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