Since 1977, Outside has been a champion not only of the adventurous, outdoor lifestyle, but the value of rich photography and deep, long-form storytelling. As the brand approaches a landmark 40th anniversary, what more logical extension than a book deal?
Arriving in September, A View from the Edge of the World — the first book produced under a three-year deal with Rowman & Littlefield's Globe Pequot Press — aggregates the very best of Outside's 40-years' worth of outdoor adventure photography.
"For me, the essence of Outside is photography and long-form journalism," editor-in-chief Chris Keyes tells Folio:. "We have all of these stories online, but to reach readers in a different format is really important to us, and to be in as many places as we can to expand the brand."
The follow up book, currently in production under the title Out There, is an anthology of long-form pieces from the magazine, pieces Keyes describes as having "sort of a quirky angle" — humor pieces, or accounts of trips to far-flung locations.
Folio: sat down with Keyes for more on Outside's 40th anniversary, and what it means to be the steward of a magazine-turned-multimedia brand in 2017.
Folio: Apart from the book series, what else do you have planned for the big anniversary?
Chris Keyes: We had our women’s issue in May, which was a big 40th anniversary effort, and we have two more 40th-related issues coming up. In September we have our innovation issue, and October is actually our true 40th anniversary. For that issue, we’re calling it, internally, “The Meaning of Life,” and we’re using our greatest contributors who are all taking stories that kind of align with various stages of what we consider a life well lived.
We’ve got everything from David Quammen on his formative years discovering the outdoors, to our final piece by Tim Cahill, who’s revisiting the place where he drowned in the Grand Canyon and was brought back to life in a near-death experience. So we’re really excited about the names we have in that feature well and the pieces we are bringing to publish.
Folio: What’s the response to that women’s issue been like from your readers?
Keyes: Overwhelmingly positive. We’ve covered women for 40 years, but certainly our demographics skew male, and so does our content. We had increasingly heard from our female readers that they wanted more representation, and so we wanted this issue to be not just a once-a-year event, but sort of a milestone to say, “We hear you, and we’re going to try and increase our coverage of women going forward.”
Folio: Obviously you want to continue to serve your core audience, but is that a goal of yours — to expand the tent and bring in more female readers?
Keyes: Yeah, absolutely. With all the incredible growth we’ve seen online, we’re really reaching two different audiences. There’s obviously some cross-over, but its an opportunity to reach a lot of readers who wouldn’t recognize us or might never pick up a print magazine.
It’s the same with our readership. We’ve always had a core male readership, but women make up at least 50 or in some cases more than 50 percent of outdoor participants. And we want to reach them.
Folio: In your mind, who is that Outside reader you want to reach — that “outdoor participant?”
Keyes: Well, it’s a really broad spectrum, and I think that makes Outside unique. Throughout our history we’ve always had this push-pull dynamic between the very, very core audience, guys who live in mountain towns and are really core into the sport and don’t think Outside is core enough. And then, on the other end, you’ve got your professional man or woman living in New York City, who finds that some of the stuff we write about is too core.
We want to be somewhere in the middle, a magazine that can write for that core audience in an educated way, but that also is really inspiring for a person who is just dipping their toe in the water to try some of these things out.
Folio: Is that a challenge? Serving an audience that spans such a wide spectrum?
Keyes: Ultimately, it comes down to storytelling. A great story transcends any core audience. As long as we’re looking for that and serving that in our feature well, I don’t think it's as much of a challenge.
We’re about a lifestyle, living healthy, having as many outdoor experiences as we can, and we’re living in a time when people are more and more hooked up to their technology, which is great in a lot of ways, but we’re seeing this overwhelming need among the American populace to kind of find an antidote to that.
Folio: I take it you see that as an opportunity.
Keyes: Absolutely. We did a story a few years ago by Florence Williams about “your brain on nature,” which was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. That piece really took a survey of all the research going into this right now, and we’re really shining a spotlight on that because it’s important, but also because it’s a reason for Outside’s existence.
Folio: Speaking of expanding the brand, you’ve taken up podcasting.
Keyes: I’m a podcast junkie, I’ve been listening to them for about a decade and have always wanted to dabble in that space. We started last March with a program called “The Science of Survival,” and partnered with one of our writers who is also a fantastic audio producer, Peter Frick-Wright. We’ve done about 12 of those so far and it's really a translation of some of our best storytelling into audio form.
We’ve also been slowly introducing other formats. I’m doing interviews. We launched a series with Florence Williams on adventurous women in the outdoor world. We’re looking to really commit to a 52-week schedule for next year.
Folio: Ten years ago when you began, maybe you had the website in its infancy, but Outside was essentially just a magazine. Now that you’re on all of these other channels, too, how do you manage it all as the editor?
Keyes: For anyone in my position, it’s a matter of finding great people to work with so I don’t have to micromanage. I’m definitely involved in all aspects, but we’ve really invested in our web team since I’ve been here. When I started we had one web editor, who was essentially charged with migrating print pieces onto the web. Now we have around 15 full-time digital staffers. So that’s its own thing at this point.
The contribution that the magazine makes to the website is still significant, but the vast, vast majority of the content on the website has never been in print. It definitely takes its cues from the legacy of the magazine. All of the core subject areas in the magazine make up the channels of the website.
Folio: One other channel on the website is video. Can you tell me about what you’re doing in that space?
Keyes: We’re not making a huge investment, because of the cost of producing great video is incredibly high. But we have a three-person video team and we’re doing a lot of experimentation on there, just sort of having fun and seeing what works.
Where we’re seeing a lot of video is in branded content. That’s been a huge part of Outside’s business over the last couple of years.
Folio: When it comes to producing branded content, what attracts clients to Outside?
Keyes: All brands want to be storytellers now, and if they want to tell a story in this space, I think they see us as the leading brand to be able to do that. As an editor, I rarely have anything to do with that. That’s really our marketing director, Sam Moulton, who did come from the edit side. That’s one of the things that I think is really attractive to brands. Sam was an editor here for eight or nine years and wanted to try something different. He really has the storytelling chops to translate those messages into branded content.
► From the Folio archives: Outside's executive editor explains his move to the business side.
Folio: What’s changed the most at Outside since you arrived a decade ago?
Keyes: When I got here, I remember being kind of overwhelmed just at the idea of running a magazine. Now, it’s a magazine, a website, podcasting, all of our social media extensions, and on and on. The proliferation of content types and various ways that we can reach consumers is daunting, but also really exciting. It’s a really exciting time to be in media.
From the perspective of the magazine, we’ve tried to really broaden what the Outside lifestyle is. This is a whole lifestyle that includes a lot of other sports, a lot of health and fitness and wellness, travel. That’s reflected in the pages of the magazine that you see now versus in the ‘90s when Outside was really making a name for itself.
Folio: What hasn’t changed?
Keyes: When I got here, it was almost a controversial thing to say that we’re going to stay committed to long-form journalism. That was before this real long-form renaissance that we’ve seen over the last five years or so. Everything was focused on this digital horizon and the idea that people had shorter attention spans. That just hasn’t panned out.
The value of an 8,000 word Outside story in the ‘80s is the same as it is now, and we find that we get our biggest traffic spikes and the most attention when we are really committed to that.