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Building Alpenglow Journal: a new type of outdoor publication

Alex Roddie
Alex Roddie
6 min read
Building Alpenglow Journal: a new type of outdoor publication

Friends, it's time to talk about the future.

In my last Substack update, I wrote that I was working on plans for a complete relaunch of The Pinnacle. I hinted at a pivot towards something different – something I hoped to launch in July.

Although I’m not quite ready to launch yet, because I’m about to head off to Morocco for some trekking in the Atlas Mountains, I am ready to talk about specifics.

I haven’t been this excited about something new for a long time.

This is a cross-posted version of an article originally published on Substack. All posts in the 'Building Alpenglow Journal' series will be cross-posted on this blog.

The plan

Alpenglow Journal is destined to be a print adventure magazine, most likely bi-annual or tri-annual, because I believe that real stories are best read on paper. However, it’s going to take time to get there. And it won’t be quite like any other adventure magazine – certainly not the ones I currently work with.

I’m in the process of drawing up a multi-year plan. I can’t tell you how many years it will take to get to my first print issue, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Conservatively I’d estimate 3–4 years if all goes well. Maybe less, maybe more.

It will begin as a newsletter. For the last month or so I’ve been getting reacquainted with Substack, figuring out how other writers are using it. Initially everything will be free while I concentrate on building a base of subscribers. But I want to be upfront about this: I will be putting up a partial paywall quite early, because this is an essential part of my plan for the journal.

I can’t say when I’ll launch paid memberships, but I’m currently thinking it will be when I hit 1,000 free subscribers (I’m at 779 right now) or after six months of consistent newsletters, whichever comes first. The price will most likely be £50 per year or £5 per month, and probably a single membership tier to keep things simple.

Currently the URL is thepinnacle.substack.com. But I’ve registered the domain alpenglowjournal.com, which is where the publication will move at launch. (At the moment this is just an automated holding page.)

I’m working on a logo design, which currently exists as rough sketches in my notebook. The vibe is very deliberately Arts and Crafts/William Morris. This design language will eventually extend to the print magazine. Partly this is because I find modern minimalist design boring, but mostly it’s because Arts and Crafts was a countercultural movement against the industrial mechanisation of art, and that is highly relevant to Alpenglow Journal’s message of humanity and resistance through adventure. Also, I like things that are a bit awkward and different! I’ll most likely hire a designer to create a finished logo.

Here are my current thoughts about digital material.

  • Newsletter: weekly. Initially free, then members only once paid membership is launched, with a handful of free ones a year.
    • Content is yet to be finalised, but I’m imagining a short editorial followed by links of value and interest, photos or scans of analogue media/art/poetry, a book spotlight, a creator/artist spotlight, some anti-tweets (more on these in a future update), and a section called ‘The Resistance’ (which is where any negativity or moaning about tech and social media will be quarantined).
    • The emphasis will be on providing genuine interest and value, building a community of like-minded people, sharing positive ideas.
  • Features: either one or two per month. Current thinking is that these will remain free.
    • This is the tricky part, because part of my idea is to commission writers and pay them appropriately for it. So the journal has to be able to support these fees through paid memberships.
    • Features will include stories as well as interviews, journalism, and practical guidance.
    • Topics will include mountaineering and hillwalking, backpacking, nature and environment, writing (including poetry, literature, and fiction), art, photography (especially analogue photography), history, philosophy, tech, and tech resistance. All linking back to my core themes, of course. More on these core themes in my next update.
    • Again, I’ll be laser focused on interest and value; no low-effort trip reports or gear reviews. In fact, I’m probably going to steer clear of gear reviews as we’d recognise them from mainstream outdoors media.
  • Trail Notes: still working on this idea, but I’m considering adding a podcast for members. Episodes will be short and simple, most likely recorded on my phone while on the hill at first, later including contributions from other people. Paid members only.
  • Photo critique club and book club: also filed under ‘still working on this’, and most likely not to be launched for some time. But there could be real potential for something valuable here. It’s very difficult for photographers to get genuine feedback on their images (Instagram is worse than useless).

I’m interested in your views, too. What would you like to read? What do you think I should include? Please let me know.

Real talk about numbers

Yes, this all sounds like a lot. It’s going to take a lot of work from me, and this is another reason why I’ll need to launch paid memberships early. I just won’t be able to afford to invest the time into it otherwise.

By my calculations, if I can convert 5–10% of free members to paying subscribers at 1,000 free members, that will be just about enough to make the whole thing sustainable. But only if I can consistently put enough care and effort into the whole thing to keep growing.

If I hit a wall and it fails to take off, I will need to scale back my ambitions. If the balance of my editorial and writing work elsewhere shifts and I find myself having to work more hours to pay the bills, I will need to scale back (or postpone) my ambitions.

This is always a risk when launching something new. However, if all goes well then I can start building for the future.

I should be able to start commissioning features when I get to about 250 paying members. And if I reach about 500 paying members I can start to make solid plans for an inaugural print issue.

I’m thinking that issue #1 will need to be launched with a crowdfunding effort, as I doubt that Substack memberships alone will be sufficient at this point.

It’s too early to talk about specifics for the print journal, but right now I’m envisioning that paid Substack subscribers will get a decent discount on the cover price (or on a print subscription). Print subscriptions will be separate from Substack memberships.

My hope is that, eventually, a combination of paid Substack memberships and print subscriptions will be able to fund a regular print journal without resorting to advertising. At this point I will need to hire a small team to help me.

This is my vision for sustainable outdoors media: 100% reader-supported, no brand money needed. No bullshit. Is that possible? Maybe. I’d like to think it is. I can’t guarantee zero advertising, because it may be economically unavoidable. That’s the goal, though.

I don’t like numbers and metrics, but I’m going to have to take them seriously. I’m aware that Alpenglow Journal will serve a niche within existing outdoors media. But perhaps if I’m unapologetic about this, if I embrace the opinionated niche and resist the urge to turn into a clone of what other outdoor publications are doing, my people will find me.

Everyone’s been telling me that it’s a good time to niche down. Let’s hope that’s true.

First steps

Here are the jobs on my immediate radar:

  • Finish the logo
  • Write a manifesto (a few bullet points under a ‘What we believe in’ headline)
  • Create a content plan for the first few months
  • Get website copy ready
  • Launch!

Here’s a preview from my next ‘Building Alpenglow Journal’ update, which I’ll be posting when I return from Morocco in early July:

But the economic machine underpinning it all is rusty and failing, the people who write these stories aren't paid enough, and nobody is joining the dots, offering people real hope for the future. Something in the darkness we can believe in. A unified vision; a movement.

I want to put adventure back on its pedestal as a source of wonder and imagination, not clicks and dopamine hits – and also celebrate how it can be used as a tool to reaffirm our humanity and improve our lives.

If you like what you read, please subscribe and share this update. And thank you for joining this movement. It’s my hope that we can do a lot of good. More on this in my next update.

For some years, this image, which I shot above Zermatt in 2017, was the banner photo for my blog. Alpenglow illuminates and clarifies in the darkness; it brings grace, art, motion. I can’t think of a better symbol. © Alex Roddie
SubstackAlpenglow JournalNotes

Alex Roddie

Happiest on a mountain. Writer, story-wrangler, digital and film photographer. Editor of Sidetracked magazine (I make the words come out good).

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