No stranger to the unconventional, REI is at it again: The outdoors retailer is discontinuing its print mail-order catalog and debuting a magazine.
Called Uncommon Path, the print publication will run on a quarterly basis and include stories focused on the outdoors. Kent, Washington-based REI is partnering with Hearst Magazines on the project, which will be staffed by a team of roughly six in-house REI employees as well as a collection of freelancers and Hearst workers.
“What this magazine represents is how we are trying to deliver some of our own content and environmental journalism to help people understand issues around the outdoors better,” says Paolo Mottola, editorial director. He concedes that print journalism is not exactly on the upswing, but predicts that the singular outdoors-focus of Uncommon Path should help REI succeed. Mottolo says the magazine is another vehicle to deliver REI content to consumers, and that it will exist alongside the retailer’s online publishing, podcast and documentaries.
Hearst has a similar publishing deal with Airbnb for Airbnb Magazine, which has a distribution of 1 million.
REI is finalizing its retail strategy of the publication and expects to sell in some airports, bookstores and newsstands around the country, as well as in all 155 of its stores, with a cover price of $4.95. The first issue this fall, at 84 pages, will include a mix of editorial features and print ads.
Sucharita Kodali, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, says the magazine is a smart move for REI because it will bring in additional advertising revenue and potentially be a profit center.
“This enables them to expand broadly to advertisers and anybody that wants to reach this relatively affluent demographic,” she says, noting that other categories, like automobile, travel and insurance companies could be interested in advertising opportunities. “Typically, catalogs are break-even—they’re not money makers—but magazines can be,” she says, noting GameStop’s successful Game Informer video game magazine. That publication has 2 million subscribers, according to the company’s financial documents.
REI has made a name for itself as a proponent of the outdoors, especially after the retailer famously began closing all of its stores on Black Friday four years ago. That “Opt Outside” movement, which encouraged consumers to enjoy the outdoors on a day typically reserved for bargain-hunting inside, spun into a larger narrative for REI that has included multiple brand partnerships and similar closures from other retailers.
Other retailers have pulled back on catalog advertising. For instance, Ikea said last year it would be trimming its print catalog count and devoting the resources to different marketing.
Brand-published magazines have had mixed results. GameStop, for example, has a very specific, customized loyalty program for Game Informer, but other retailers have had trouble scaling such ventures. Casper, the direct-to-consumer mattress brand, introduced Woolly, a quarterly print magazine two years ago, as an evolution of its discontinued Van Winkle publication dedicated to sleep. It’s unclear if Woolly is still in circulation; a spokeswoman for Casper did not return a request for comment and the magazine’s website currently features a story devoted to autumn.
The first issue of Uncommon Path will include features on a bike ride through Atlanta and the U.S./Mexico border. Michelle Flandreau, senior editor, says the publication will also focus on product testing, gear reviews and exploring climate change. REI also said this week that it is investing in 10 local news organizations through NewsMatch, a campaign for furthering local news. The retailer expects to donate $100,000 to local, nonprofit news this year.