Outside magazine ventures into the travel business

Outside magazine is taking its business into the great outdoors.

The magazine, known for launching the careers of writers like Jon Krakauer, this month announced Outside Go, its new travel company that will extend its brand from print and the Web into the world of travel. The new company, founded in conjunction with travel company Uncharted Outposts, launched this month with trips that include glacier hopping in Alaska and chimp trekking in Tanzania. Prices for the trips range from $2,700 to $8,500. 

The move puts Outside in lockstep with travel magazine Afar, which launched its own series of travel events back in 2012. National Geographic also runs a similar strategy via National Geographic Expeditions, a trip series that promises readers “authentic and meaningful travel experiences.”  (Afar and National Geographic have circulations of  250,000 and 4 million, respectively.)

The thinking behind these moves is roughly the same: Outside and National Geographic know that the people who read their magazines like to travel, so they are cutting out the travel agency middleman by selling the travel experiences themselves.

Christine Salem, strategic planning director at Outside, said the move is an obvious one for the magazine. “We see Outside Go as just another platform for the brand,” she said. “But instead of selling content, Outside is selling experiences.”

Which is potentially more remunerative than selling ads. And that’s precisely the point: Outside saw its fourth-quarter 2013 ad revenue drop 11 percent to $24 million from the same period the year before. Salem wouldn’t disclose Outside Go’s first-year revenue goals.

The struggling publishing industry has already recognized the branding and business power of conferences, which has become a significant revenue source for both print and digital publishers. Recode, the tech site run by former AllThingsD editors Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, for example, charged $6,500 for tickets to its upcoming sellout Code Conference.

The revenue opportunity here is similarly significant for Outside, whose average reader earns $103,000 a year, Salem said. Considering that the magazine has a circulation of over 685,000 and an audience of 20,000,000 across its online platforms, Outside might just have a good chance of carving out its own lucrative part of the $236 billion adventure travel industry.

Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, said the move was a smart one for Outside, and something that other brands should follow. “This is the way journalists should approach marketing,” he said. “They understand their audience, and they’re meeting their audience.”

There are cross-platform marketing advantages here as well. In addition to getting input from Outside’s editorial team, Outside Go will also be able to use the pages of Outside’s magazine and website to advertise to readers directly. Outside Go’s business won’t put any pressure on Outside’s editorial operations, Salem said.

“There’s going to be a nice synergy between the two businesses,” Salem said.

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