Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Outside Inc. CEO Robin Thurston went on a media buying spree, acquiring iconic publications like Outside magazine and developing an ever-growing digital stable to add to its Outside+ subscription model. “I think COVID presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Thurston, a Denver native. 5280 in a December 2021 interview explaining his myriad acquisitions for this article.
In addition to traditional print media offerings, the Boulder-based company has purchased an extensive list of active lifestyle brands, Warren Miller’s entire movie catalog, mapping services and even a company that takes photos of the finish line during races. Thurston’s plan was to have these brands become part of the Outside+ subscription model, which targets individual readers’ interests and anticipates future business. The goal: to sell content, goods and services directly to subscribers for an annual fee. In the process, Outside Inc. would place less emphasis on the ad revenue model that has become so difficult for print media. Perhaps the most impressive, said Thurston 5280he had transformed his company from a few dozen employees into one with more than 500 and he had made all the acquisitions without laying off a single person.
That changed last week when the company told staff in a videoconference meeting that it would cut about 15% of its workforce, close some of its print publications and reduce the frequency of most magazines to one. or two draws per year. The change came as a shock to Outside Inc. employees who had hoped Thurston’s ambitions would result in a rejuvenated era for the company’s publications.
“It’s demoralizing,” said an employee of Outside Inc. 5280 on condition of anonymity to speak openly about the cuts. “You do the work because of the people around you, all these brilliant minds. Now people are wondering how long they want to stay in this industry.
The layoffs were spread across the company, according to a slide shown to Outside Inc. employees and obtained by 5280. Of those listed as “releases,” 31 came from “content” — or 18% from that sector — among them were three publishers of Outside magazine, the company’s flagship brand. Sixteen employees were made redundant from commercial and marketing departments; 13 positions were removed from “trade”, 12 positions were removed from “product engineering and mapping”; seven others were “general and administrative” employees. The company’s “events and experiences” and “customer support” teams were not affected.
“It’s a tough time for the media, and these kinds of budget cuts are a trend we unfortunately continue to see,” says Joy Jenkins, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tennessee and the newspaper’s editor. magazine media newspaper, a peer-reviewed publication that studies magazines and new media. “On the surface, it looks like the [Outside+] would work, so hopefully these cuts don’t deter others from trying to innovate in this space.
Plus, Outside Inc. plans to cut print publications by 80%, letter says Ski Sierra Shafer magazine’s editor posted, then deleted, on Twitter. Cycling magazines Beta and Platoon will be closed in the next six months, as well as the women’s fitness magazine, Oxygen, which currently has a live job posting for an Editorial Director. Other print publications, including Ski– will be offered online, with only one or two printed editions per year.
Outside Inc.’s public relations firm did not respond to a request that Thurston be made available for comment and instead provided 5280 with a written statement. “Outside has grown tremendously over the past two years, with 20 acquisitions and quadrupling subscription to over 800,000 paid subscribers, but growth often requires change. In line with what many in the media industry see as the future of media, we are concertedly moving to high print volume to focus more on immersive video and digital storytelling. With this change, Outside made the difficult but necessary decision to downsize. We are extremely grateful to everyone who has taken an active role in helping the brand move forward towards our vision of being the leading platform for outdoor content, services and activities.
Thurston told Outside Inc. employees via the video meeting that current economic conditions made it more difficult in the short term to transfer the business from private ownership to a publicly traded company and forced the cutbacks. The savings, Thurston said, would give the company more “runway” to operate in the interim.
The company acquired the Santa Fe-based company Outside magazine and its ancillary businesses in February 2021 and changed its corporate name from Pocket Outdoor Media to Outside Inc. Thurston had secured funding from investment partners, including $150 million in a Series B funding round from Sequoia Heritage, an early investor in tech giants such as Apple, Google, Instagram and WhatsApp, it would help fund additional purchases.
In about two years, Outside Inc. has acquired about 30 titles, including PinkBike, one of the world’s most popular mountain biking websites for news, opinions and gear reviews.Hiker, trail runnerand yoga dayI. In April, the company announced the launch of the Outerverse, a Web3 initiative that Outside Inc. promoted in a press release as an “adventure and wellness-focused alternative” to Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse. The project would include an NFT marketplace, called Outside.io, a “community-driven creator platform,” and an Outside brand loyalty token.
For months, many employees have said 5280 they found themselves wondering about the number of purchases, how the acquisitions fit into the overall business, and the sustainability of the company’s management plan. “I don’t dispute that Outside Inc. protects its bottom line,” the Outside Inc employee said. 5280, referring to reductions. “But the lack of direction here is frustrating.”
Thurston said the Outside Inc. umbrella provides stability and “protection” for smaller publications during uncertain times. “We invest so much in these teams,” he said. 5280 in December. “My thing is, I don’t know how you earn if you don’t invest in people.”
In this interview, Thurston mentioned Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that emptied US newspapers, including the Denver Post. “[There are] companies like Alden who think they can just keep taking more money out of the bottom line, but that’s not my philosophy. My philosophy is that we have to invest in the team, so they want to get the job done and do it in a high quality way to attract the client. As long as you maintain this cycle then I think you are in a good place.