Magazine A-List 2009

Backpacker Is No. 8 on Ad Age's Magazine A-List

Developing Niche Content Exactly in Tune With What Readers Crave Most

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Asked about the possibility of broadening the audience and mission of Backpacker, Publisher Kent Ebersole shrugs off the suggestion as one of its trail-taming readers might a gnat. "I don't think people who aren't enthusiastic about the outdoors have a huge desire to read this magazine. What's the point?"

His dismissive response underlines what anybody who pages through the magazine will realize within seconds: Backpacker devotes precisely zero percent of its energies toward embracing newbies. And that may well be the reason the title has thrived at a time when comparable niche mags have sagged. Backpacker lives to serve a hardened, involved core of outdoor enthusiasts, inspiring them with gear demos, trail recommendations and more.

A continued focus on the hardest of the hardcore outdoors enthusiasts, in part via events designed to put them into close contact with marketing partners.
Kent Ebersole
Jonathan Dorn
"The folks developing that content are exactly in tune with what readers want," said Shelly Neubauer, marketing coordinator at Woolrich, which has sponsored Backpacker's "Get Out More" tour for the past two years. "They're really living that lifestyle. They're conveying first-hand experience."

While Backpacker grew paid circulation this year, the numbers aren't entirely rosy. Mr. Ebersole said that the final '09 tally will reveal an ad-page drop, "possibly double-digit." Nonendemic advertisers -- the automotive and food marketers that made up about 30% of the title's ad base -- pulled back more than endemic ones did. "Fortunately, the attrition in the magazine hasn't been 'we won't advertise.' It's been 'We're paring back a little bit,'" he noted.

Online helped close the gap. In 2009, has seen sharp spikes in both page views (it logged 2.4 million in August, up from 1.8 million in August 2008) and time spent (slightly below seven minutes per visit). But what really fueled the Backpacker's growth was its events, particularly the 11th iteration of the "Get Out More" tour. For the seven-month program, Backpacker put intrepid outdoorfolk Sheri and Randy Propster in a Subaru (a sponsor, naturally) and pointed them at five outdoor festivals and 55 outdoor retailers. At each event, they shared tips and pushed product. "We couldn't have done it better ourselves," said Ms. Neubauer, who credits the tour with familiarizing retailers with Woolrich's performance apparel.

1. Women's Health
2. Better Homes & Gardens
3. Family Circle
4. The Economist
5. People
6. Essence
7. The Week
8. Backpacker
9. Cosmopolitan
10. National Geographic
Backpacker also pressed forward with "Adventures NYC," a full day of kayaking demonstrations, wall-climbing and more in Central Park. Presenting sponsor Victorinox (maker of all things Swiss Army) touted its watches, outdoor gear and luggage; other sponsors included JetBlue and Eastern Mountain Sports. The program will return in 2010, possibly adding an event in Boulder -- which, not coincidentally, is where it has called home since its acquisition by Active Interest Media from Rodale.

Ironically, Backpacker may be one of the few media entities not entirely eager for the down economy to lift. After all, it hasn't been uncommon over the past 18 months for active-lifestyle buffs to pass up trips to exotic locales in favor of pursuits only a car ride away.

"It's easy to go hiking," Mr. Ebersole said. "That said, we're not going to be too upset when everything gets back to where it was."

Most Popular