No, that’s not a typo. You can finally play Taps for Paddler, the long-standing member benefit magazine for the American Canoe Association. At it November board meeting, the ACA announced that it will “officially” suspend publishing Paddler and will have Canada’s Rapid Media, spearheaded by Scott MacGregor, satisfy its member magazine benefits. Rapid Media currently publishes Rapid, Canoeroots, Adventure Kayak and Kayak Angler magazines, and operates a slew of paddling events as well as the REEL Paddling Film Festival.
While terms of the arrangement weren’t revealed, ACA Executive Director Wade Blackwood maintains it will be a good move for the ACA and its membership. “There’s nothing but positive news from the ACA,” he says. “We’re continuing our focus on training and instruction. And how can you argue with getting the choice of four different magazines?”
This is such a win for everyone with so many options,” adds MacGregor. “ACA members choose the magazine they want and they can also choose how they have it delivered—mail, online and to their iPad/iPhone. Members may also add additional magazines at a special ACA member rate. The spring issues of Rapid, Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots and Kayak Angler will be the first members receive.”
While the move represents a sign of the times for both the print and paddlesports industry, it leaves a wake of employees from the magazine’s former offices in Kirkland, Wash., forced to move on. Editors Mike Kord and Christian Knight left the company earlier in the year, with former Paddler publisher Glen Bernard, also the former publisher of Canoe & Kayak magazine, currently assessing his options. “I spent 24 years happily serving the paddlesports industry and have no regrets of taking on the role of trying to rebuild Paddler,” he says. “I like to keep my doors open but am also keeping a 360-degree field of vision.
“We worked hard, learned a lot, and picked up some awards and recognition,” he adds. “The experience was a positive one. I would like the think and hope that the new arrangement will work for all parties Like any non-profit these days, the ACA has a lot of organizational challenges, but they also have a lot of great people behind it to get the job done. But I know how tough it is to make things work from a business perspective in this environment. At the end of the day, I hope the energy and passion that has helped make the paddlesports market what it is keeps going.”
Adds former editor Christian Knight: “I didn’t realize when I landed my dream job back in January 2007 that the dream would end so quickly and with so much struggle. Overall, however, I wouldn’t trade my three years at Paddler for anything less than, let’s say $120 grand. Paddler provided me a laboratory to experiment with different forms of journalism and public outreach. And I feel like I fully capitalized on this opportunity.”
Those in the industry are also nostalgic. “I’m sorry to see Paddler go,” says AIRE’s marketing and sales director Chris Callanan, who also used to be the ad sales director at Canoe & Kayak magazine. “I thought it always did a great job of reaching the core whitewater audience and it had a great loyal following. Media is changing and I hope Rapid Media is able to incorporate print, internet, video, and social media since marketing to end users these days is really a multi-layered game.”
The ACA’s suspension of Paddler isn’t new; it did so for intermittent periods over the previous two years. In July 2009, Paddling Life reported on the ACA suspending publication of Paddler’s May/June ’09 issue, on the heels of the company’s first ever digital edition. (See earlier story here: http://paddlinglife.net/paddling_life_article_detail.php?id=448)
The earlier problems arose, said the ACA’s former Executive Director Marty Bartles, when the magazine’s printer, Quebecor, then in the throes of bankruptcy, refused to extend credit for the magazine’s spring issue. The company had enacted several cost-saving measures to combat the trying times, from producing more material in-house to decreasing the frequency of its trade magazine, Paddle Dealer. The company also reduced its workforce, letting longtime Business Manager Alice Lee and Circulation Director Rosalind Bradden go in December 2008. The ACA let Bartles go shortly later, replacing him with the association’s then-CFO Blackwood, who retains the helm today. In summer 2009, it furloughed the Paddler staff right before the annual Outdoor Retailer Summer market tradeshow.
The ACA has negotiated tumultuous waters with regard to its flagship publication before. When it bought its member-benefit title in 1997, former publisher, Jim Ellis, had missed a few publishing cycles as well. Original editor Eugene Buchanan agreed to stay on board for an equity position in the company and assumed publishing duties. The association then invested in returning the publication to its bi-monthly cycle, with Buchanan bringing design, editorial and advertising in-house in Steamboat Springs, Colo. In a burgeoning market, the magazine prospered.
After 14 years at the helm, Buchanan left the publication in 2006 and the ACA hired Bernard, the former publisher of Canoe & Kayak, to spearhead the publication in Kirkland.
In 2009, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Topline report showed the paddlesports market experiencing its third consecutive down year in a row, at a time when magazine print buys across all categories deteriorated. And Paddler is far from alone. In September, Skiing magazine announced it was dropping its print run from six to two issues per year, with National Geographic Adventure suspending its operations in 2009.