Death to action sports print: Popular titles Powder, Snowboarder, Surfer and Bike Magazine shut down

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Photo courtesy JP St.Pierre

Brayden Stephenson, Editor

Grim news hit the action sports industry this month with the shuttering of legendary magazine titles Powder, Surfer, Snowboarder, and Bike. The decision, motivated by the declining revenue prospects of the niche magazines, hit hard for fans who have followed these titles, some for generations. On Oct. 5 Powder magazine released its official statement regarding the shutdown.

“On Oct. 2, we were notified by our parent company A360 Media, LLC (formerly American Media, LLC) that our entire editorial staff will be placed on indefinite furlough, effective Nov.  20, 2020, when operations of the magazine, our website, and our social channels will be paused.” Sierra Shafer, Editor in Chief at Powder, wrote.

As the other magazines broke the news to their readers, social media was flooded with posts of old issues and memorable moments highlighted in the magazines’ pages. It wasn’t just a devastating indication of the future of print media, but also a blow to the culture of action sports.

“It’s really sad to see Powder go right before its 50th anniversary and surfer at its 60th,” said Mike Rogge, former managing editor at Powder. Rogge is currently relaunching the Mountain Gazette, one of pioneer magazines of a format that combines literary journalism with outdoor adventure sports. “They’re so responsible for the culture that followed but just because they’re gone doesn’t mean the culture will die.”

In Powder, Rogge found a voice that resonated with him.

“Powder made it okay for me to be totally obsessed about something and write about it seriously,” he said. “For me, landing a job at Powder was like a comedian getting a job at SNL.

“All these titles were referred to the Bible of their sports but Powder was my magazine. There had never been a title dedicated to the other side of skiing…before it was all racing and hard-pack related. Powder gave a voice to the people who weren’t sponsored or normally didn’t have representation.”

The disruption to traditional advertising from social media is certainly part of the blame for the magazines’ downfall, but economic pressures of big private equity firms like American Media don’t help. Niche magazines can’t compete in an environment that favors a mainstream business model.

“It’s the sign of the times,” said Kurt Gensheimer, a longtime mountain biking journalist and contributor to Bike Magazine. “The dominance of social media makes it harder and harder to run a healthy and profitable print publication. If you want these things to survive you have to be a subscriber. There’s a bunch of people bummed about the closure of these magazines but maybe if they would’ve subscribed this wouldn’t have happened.”

Despite the bad news, some see a hopeful future for print: independently run magazines like Freehub and The Surfer’s Journal are thriving.

“Magazines like [Freehub] made the necessary pivot towards artistic expression,” Gensheimer said. “They reduced the amount of issues per year and keep a strong subscriber base. Freehub also has pretty thick magazines. You can tell the health of a magazine by the thickness of its binder. Bike kept getting smaller and smaller. It was just a long time coming.”