Is Outside the new "Amazon of the outdoors"?

A series of major acquisitions has turned "Outside" into a major outdoor media conglomerate

This week, the outdoor industry was rocked with a series of acquisitions by Pocket Media (POM) that completed in one of the largest media rollups in recent memory and the creation of a new, massive, outdoor/fitness/lifestyle industry conglomerate.

A quick timeline:

  • June 2020: POM raises a series A round
  • June 2020: POM acquires the Healthy Living, Fitness, and Outdoor divisions of Active Interest Media (AIM). Included in the AIM acquisition were titles like: Yoga JournalSKIClimbingBACKPACKER, Warren Miller Entertainment, Oxygen, Fly Fishing Film Tour, National Park Trips, SNEWS, and more.
  • October 2020: POM acquires Rock & Ice, Trail Runner, and Gym Climber from Big Stone Publishing
  • November 2020: POM acquires FinisherPix, one of the top providers of sports photography for racing events around the world.
  • November 2020: POM acquires Paleo Magazine
  • February 2021: POM launches a new mountain bike title, BETA.
  • February 2021: POM acquires Outside Integrated Media (all Outside Magazine owned properties), Outside TV, Gaia GPS, athleteReg, and
    Peloton Magazine. The company is rebranded under the “Outside” banner. They also raised $150 million in VC funding.

In a little over six months, POM (now rebranded as Outside) has rolled up many of the major players in the outdoor media space, as well as a cadre of platforms in related spaces —  reaching approximately 70 million consumers a month.

So why the Amazon comparison?

With Outside’s “Active Pass” subscription for $99/year (remind you of anything?), consumers that were previously only involved with one segment of the outdoors now potentially have massively increased exposure to other Outside properties — hopefully driving them to try new things, buy more stuff, and use Outside owned apps. Here’s a short overview of how they’re thinking about the Active Pass:

This $99 membership includes hundreds of dollars’ worth of value in the form of premium digital and photographic content, magazine subscriptions, event entries, training plans, recipes, books, a personalized feed, and interactive experiences with editors, pro athletes, coaches, and other experts. And as the five new brands join the Outside platform, it will expand to include new perks: advanced navigation tools that’ll keep you safe while skiing and backpacking, exclusive access to first-run documentaries, access to member-only events and adventures, additional gear discounts, and much more.

Beyond the wide swath of control over an entire media category, there’s a push for owning related platforms as well. The acquisitions of GaiaGPS, athleteReg, and FinisherPix tells me that they’re seeking to have end-to-end exposure of outdoor consumers. They’re not the first to go down this route — REI purchased the Adventure Project apps in 2015 (although they just recently sold them back to the founders), and many outdoor brands have started running their own trips and classes as a way to access more points on an outdoor consumers journey.

Backpacking curious? Find inspiration in Outside Magazine and Backpacker.

But where to find some local hikes? Try GaiaGPS.

Now you need new gear. Find a gear round-up and click the affiliate links on any Outside property.

You’ve graduated to trail running and racing. Subscribe to Trail Runner, and find a race on AthleteReg. Want to remember that race? Get your pics through FinisherPix.

Ok, so is this a good or bad thing?

Honestly, we don’t really know yet. Some of the properties that POM acquired were already struggling or going out of business, so it’s nice that these were “saved”. The media landscape has changed massively in the last 5-10 years and it’s a rough world out there. Much like Vail Resorts and Alterra, there’s some safety in numbers. There’s certainly potential benefits to consumers (lower costs for greater access), as well as negatives (more centralized control over a swath of the industry).

To be clear, the strategy that Outside is employing is a smart one. Rather than having to spend money on acquiring new customers through a single, narrow funnel, they can rely on their other properties to encourage consumers to move through their ecosystem (ideally becoming more engaged i the outdoors and higher value customers as time goes on). A reader of Outside Mag that occasionally hikes is less valuable that one who reads the mag and hikes and backpacks, tries mountain biking, does local 5ks, etc. It’s a flywheel/network effect that almost every company seeks to achieve in different ways (see, REI and Backcountry investing in in-house brands and their own content).

The real question is whether Outside can remain as altruistic as the early PR announcements. I listened in on a great Clubhouse chat with some Outside team members, and word on the street is that folks are generally hopeful and feeling positive about the new CEO and the company. However, a common refrain was “every indication”. “Every indication” is that there aren’t going to be widespread layoffs. “Every indication” that the company remains dedicated to journalistic integrity and not taking advantage of its position of power in the industry.

Unfortunately, raising $150 million in funding means you’ve got some folks to answer to re: growth in both audience and revenue. It’s hard to overstate how many companies have lost the plot in their pursuit of constantly growing numbers in order to satisfy their investors. At some point, this probably means combining teams for efficiency, eliminating less profitable titles, or inadvertently (or intentionally) pushing competitors and new entrants out of their extremely large and valuable ecosystem. Long term, you also have to have a product direction that justifies that major investment. Granted, there are exceptions and that may not be the case here (I hope this turns out to be a net positive for employees/freelancers/the industry) — but I would expect to hold my opinions for another 6-12 months to see how things shake out.

In a related note, here are a couple of excellent, (still independent) outdoor publications to check out.

Field Mag

Sidetracked Magazine

Mountain Gazette

Adventure Journal

Plus, all of the individual creators running amazing blogs and newsletters.

As always, feel free to reach out with ideas, feedback, or stuff you think I should talk about via email (just hit reply), Instagram, or Twitter.