If Skier Van Winkle woke up after a nap of only a decade, he wouldn’t recognize the media scene. The print publications he perused in search of information on winter resorts and ski areas are gone and faded in their original forms. What were once the big two, Ski and Skiing, are slimmed-down versions of their once-robust selves. Their online presence, once an afterthought, has become a major factor in their attempt to hold their print readership and advertisers. Ski Racing has morphed into skiracing.com, period, and no longer publishes a paper edition. Newcomer Ski Press, just launched a decade ago, has shrunk down to one issue, distributed three times over the winter.
Ski publishing is a microcosm of the publishing industry in general, catapulted from transition into revolution by the recession. The symbol of this: Reader’s Digest, which announced in mid-August that its U.S. operations would file for bankruptcy within 30 days. Its circulation guarantee plummeted and advertising revenues had eroded to the point its debt load was unsustainable.
Newspapers have been hit even harder. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle’s oldest business, shut down this year. The Hearst Corp. replaced it with seattlepi.com, intended as a “community forum” rather than an online newspaper. Other newspaper corporations have been hemorrhaging money and readers.
As papers struggle, a traditional conduit for ski news and snow reports, the special travel section, has been fading away. The Dallas Morning News used to publish two “Ski & Snow” special sections. This season, there is one. Other papers’ desperate economizing measures have included eliminating or shrinking the travel section, which usually was responsible for putting out annual ski sections.
Not all publishers are writing off print. High Country Media is reviving the Mountain Sports + Living title as part of a new concept that integrates several components. These include a variation on the old ski card format, in which consumers join a club for an annual fee ($30), and a partnership with SnoCountry.com as its digital partner. The new Mountain Sports + Living is a high-quality, glossy quarterly print magazine.
Derek Taylor, editor of Powder, which along with Snowboarder and summer-sports titles is published by Action Sports Group, acknowledges that this is an “interesting time for the media.” Still, he says, “for Powder, focus is still on the print product. The digital side is important, but everything isn’t turning into Facebook and Twitter.” He says that the circulation has stabilized at around 75,000 loyal readers. He believes that even in the current climate, people “trust familiar sources like the New York Times and CNN”—and presumably Powder.
If Taylor sees the print glass half-full, other longtime observers see it as half-empty. Veteran ski writer Lois Friedland, once the editor/publisher of The SkiIndustry Letter, had found that her gigs writing advertorial copy for newspaper special sections disappearing. Now, she concentrates on providing content for such on-line sites as http://adventuretravel.about.com.
The web is certainly home to an increasing amount of ski and ride information. In addition to Friedland’s adventure travel content, about.com has a skiing section written by Mike Doyle and snowboarding by Christopher de Sole. Examiner.com is highly Balkanized, splitting sites into mini specialties by geography and by interest. In Colorado alone, for instance, Friedland writes about Colorado ski resorts, Nicole Wolf writes about Alpine skiing, Alex Matthews writes about XC skiing and John Dillon writes about snowboarding. Another major player is Mountain News Corp., which includes OnTheSnow.com (winter reports on 2,000 ski areas), MountainResorts.com (summer), radio snow reports and “The Industry Report.”
Of course, many ski areas have developed their own robust online presence, with sexy websites, snow reports, webcams and news pushed out on RSS feeds. But maintaining a website no longer seems to be enough. Now messages must be compelling enough to attract followers, fans and potential clients on social media sites. These powerhouses are visited by tens of millions of viewers every month. These sites also are increasingly popular advertising vehicles. According to the American Marketing Association, advertising on social networks rose an average of more than 17 percent in 2009 over the previous year, and companies that are very active in social media increased their revenues by 18 percent.
The speed and revolutionary nature of today’s media are enough to make Skier Van Winkle go back to sleep, hoping to wake up to the reassuring thump of the newspaper on the porch, complete with the day’s snow report. The way media analysts tell it, Skier Van Winkle’s children, however, probably wouldn’t open the paper and might leaf through an attractive magazine. To reach the entire Van Winkle family, ski resorts have to do it all.
To help you make sense of the changing media landscape, SAM has morphed its traditional “media directory” into a compendium of newspaper special sections, special-interest magazines, and online snowsliding sources at www.saminfo.com.