Out out out!

They said they wanted to get everyone outside. Turns out they just wanted them out of the building.

Well, Outside Etc. is at it again, driving an additional 12 percent of its staff into the vast publishing wilderness.

Newspapers and magazines made it possible for a wastrel like Your Humble Narrator to earn a meager living and even have a bit of fun while doing it. But at times it seemed that half the job was keeping one step in front of the headsman.

I got laid off once and frequently fled under my own steam upon hearing the thin keening of file upon blade. Oh, it’s not good here. How about over there? Or there? After a half century of this I managed to coast across the finish line more or less intact, albeit with two flats and a broken chain.

Lucky doesn’t even begin to describe it. I could’ve been broomed off the course and into the tumbril at any point, and plenty of spectators and competitors would have cheered as the ax finally fell.

It was and remains a rough old road. Betimes I miss it. But not often.

“Information wants to be free,” someone once said. Not someone who actually collects and distributes the information, of course. But plenty of their customers feel that way, even as they insist on being paid for their own labor.

I haven’t “joined” Outside Etc. for the same reason I don’t watch “sports” on the TV. I’d rather be doing something than reading about it, listening to it, or watching it.

Hell, I didn’t even want to work for Outside Etc. Not once I’d seen the contract. And they were proposing to pay me, not the other way around.

Maybe some things just don’t scale up well. I think I grasp the general concept — build a one-stop shop for all your sweaty fun — but it struck me as sort of a Spandex Ballet, some anonymous cable company with a thousand channels I didn’t want to watch.

It sucks to get the heave-ho. And I know a few of those heaved, and also ho’d. But some of them will stagger away from that crumbling tower of babble to build something a little homier, maybe more like the corner bike shop instead of the sporting-goods section in Sprawlmart. The rumblings are already out there, in forums, on Substack, even Twitter (though this last may be about like shouting “Fire!” in Hell).

Who knows? Without all those grandiose schemes weighing them down, Outside Etc.’s refugees might just find a living in it. And maybe a bit of fun, too.


30 Responses to “Out out out!”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Does Outside still have anyone left in its Fanta Se building? Seems like a ghost town whenever I ride by.

  2. Pat O’Brien Says:

    The pandemic gave these companies a surge of profit. Management knew this was a temporary boon. I guess they didn’t look more than two years ahead or prepare for the inevitable slowdown. So, the employees suffer. Is their anything new here?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      CEO Robin Thurston seems to be really good at attracting investment. But where do you go from there?

      IIRC, the idea was to take all these niche activities and put ’em in one great big pile to create the kind of numbers that advertisers like to see before they open their wallets. And yeah, there is some crossover in the outdoorsy crowd. Cyclists also run, skiers also climb, everyone eats and drinks, etc. Maybe the stronger pubs could help keep the weaker ones on life support while they struggle to build an audience? Or is that … socialism?

      But as I mentioned above, this also feels like creating a cable-TV model for a cord-cutters’ world. I don’t need a thousand channels, just two or three. Why should I pay for Triathlete when I only want VeloNews? What’s an NFT? Where am I going, and why am I in this handbasket?

      Maybe a niche mag is better off remaining small, flying under the radar, providing a decent product and a serviceable living for a handful of folks. I mean, would you rather jam with a small group of like-minded musicians or be some anonymous toodler in a big-ass marching band?

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        I think your last paragraph is the best way for a small mag with a dedicated audience to go into the future. Give me a small group any day.

      • SAO' Says:

        Rodale and Outside seem to have followed a similar trajectory. For years they stuck to their core product and wouldn’t step one centimeter out of line. Seemed to make enough money to keep the lights on. Then they started expanding, which is the same thing a dying star does right before it burns out.

  3. SAO' Says:

    Copying from Out of the Noosphere … I’d put this list up against the New Yorker’s last 20 years … but we can’t have nice things anymore.

    Edward Abbey, Rick Bass, Bill Bryson, Tim Cahill, E. Jean Carroll, Daniel Coyle, Jim Harrison, Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer, Peter Matthiessen, Susan Orlean, E. Annie Proulx, David Quammen, Craig Vetter, Randy Wayne White.

    • Shawn Says:

      May I add Wallace Stegner to your list?

      Noosphere? Forgive my ignorance but that’s fascinating. Apparently the thought has been around for a century. I suppose I should emerge from my cardboard box a little more often. Thank you SAO’.

      • SAO' Says:

        I dare anyone who’s ever loved a dog to read RWW’s “This Dog Is Legend” and not choke up just a little. That last paragraph slays me every time

  4. khal spencer Says:


    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Oh, yeah, the tumbril was full to overflowing and the guillotine was working overtime. The editors of VeloNews, CyclingTips, and Outside Business Journal all got it in the neck. The forum at CyclingTips is awash in angry subscribers who say they’re all done.

      I’d love to see how many middle-management supernumeraries survived this latest Night of the Long Knives. Someone has to attend the Zoom meetings, I guess.

      Meanwhile, the Outside HQ was listed for sale back in 2020 but I don’t see it on the market at the moment. Doesn’t mean it’s not on the block, just that I can’t find the “For Sale” sign.

      • Shawn Says:

        It would be interesting to see the annual bonuses this year of Thurston and the other Rodale leadership heads. I don’t suppose they’ll be worrying about being able to pay their second vacation home mortgages.

        I’m sure glad my corporate investment dividends will continue to pay my fair share. As long as I get my money I don’t care about researched, intelligent well written information. Elon and the quibble from POG are going to take care of that for me.

      • khal spencer Says:

        “Night of the Long Knives”. I guess you have to be our age or older to have that touch of historical knowledge.

  5. Geoffrey Martin Knobl Says:

    It physically hurts just to read this. And I don’t buy the owner’s explanation.


    • Geoffrey Martin Knobl Says:

      also, I notice there are 0 comments on any of the articles on Cyclingtips website now – usually there are quite a few. I wonder if they just turned them off. I wanted to say a few things. Like why have a link at the bottom for careers if you don’t actually get one with them?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Shit, they still list some of the titles they killed under “Brands.” So you could apply for a “career” with a “brand” that no longer exists.

  6. SAO' Says:

    If you need a mental palate cleanser, here’s a nice piece:

    “As Keen started to drift off to sleep, he thought maybe the curse had finally been lifted. That’s when the bus caught fire.”


    • DownhillBill Says:

      From the first one I saw ‘til the last, I spent REK shows leaning on the front of the stage with my new best old friends singing along with him. At that first show, the guy to my right was a Texan in the obligatory cowboy hat. To my left was a grandmother, her child & spouse, and their toddler, who sat on the edge of the stage. Grandma said he knew most of the words. At the end of the set, the drummer came over and gave the little guy his sticks.

      I’ve always thought of “The Road” as small town Texas Macbeth.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      REK was just on “Austin City Limits.” Good show. I followed that up with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. Also good. ACL is a pearl of great price.

      That link wouldn’t work for me, but I found this Texas Monthly piece on REK, and it is one helluva good read. Long as shit, so block out some time, settle into a comfy chair, and pour yourself a Shiner Bock, if only to find out why REK was sitting down on stage throughout his ACL show.

      This subdued three-piece take on “Merry Christmas from the Family” remains a fave.

      • SAO' Says:

        I’ve seen Lyle Lovett twice with his Large Band, and maybe four times on his singer-songwriter tours. Guy Clark, Joe Ely, REK, John Hiatt, etc. Always a great show. When he plays Fort Collins, half the audience starts chuckling when he brings up getting his hats at Greeley Hat Works, cuz they’ve heard it so many times.

        Pretty sure folks would buy tickets even if it was advertised as spoken-word only, nothing but story-telling.

    • carl duellman Says:

      I remember hearing REK on some public radio station down in Tampa in the early 90’s and I remember thinking I needed to check him out. I heard him several more times over the years and even after hearing that he was pals with Lyle Lovett I still never listened to him. Finally some random guy at work had his live disk that I ripped and I finally got to hear what I was missing. That guy can certainly tell a story. I rank him up there with John Prine, maybe even better.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Both are good storytellers. Also in that category are Jimmy Buffett (“Death of an Unpopular Poet,” “He Went to Paris”); Steve Goodman (“My Old Man,” “City of New Orleans”); Tom Waits (“Frank’s Wild Years,” “Invitation to the Blues”); and many, many others.

        As Thomas McGuane wrote in “Nothing But Blue Skies”: “I feel sorry for the young people of today with their stupid fucking tuneless horseshit; that may be a generational judgment but I seriously doubt it.”

        • SAO' Says:

          I think it’s measurably, demonstrably verifiable that modern music is story-less. The emphasis on rhymes without meaning, recycling the old GarageBand beats with random syncopated monosyllabic grunts.

          My 10 year old is into Natalie Merchant right now, and she’ll sit in front of the TV listening to iTunes with the lyrics scrolling. Seems important to her to understand what she saying and not just tap her feet to the music, which warms my heart. And we noticed how NM and 10KM often had to shoe–horn a line into the song to get the meter right, but always made it work, because otherwise they would have lost the meaning behind the notes. Jason Isbell is also a master at that, as are everyone listed in that Texas Monthly article.

          I’d like to hear someone way smarter than me do a deep dive into the Texas vs Nashville impact on music, specifically the country vs Americana divide. Those folks should be on the same team, fighting against Top 40, but it doesn’t seem to work out that way. Modern country is as vapid and empty as any other popular genre, and yet the folks on it’s periphery — your alt-country bands like Uncle Tupelo and Old 97s, and the singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams and REK — seem to keep cranking out important work with or without commercial success.

          (Again, no expert, but I’m pretty sure that if Lynyrd Skynyrd and Gregg Allman showed up today, they wouldn’t be welcome at the CMAs or on top 40 country radio.)

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          ’Tis unknown to me what makes one person good and another successful.

          You won’t find Thomas McGuane on anyone’s list of best-sellers, but I will always read anything he writes. He and the late Jim Harrison must have done OK, but nobody will tell you they shifted a ton of product.

          But they make me think, reflect, and feel. That’s what I want from a musician, too — not just aimless toe-tapping, though that’s fine when you want it. I want the whiff of cognition. Not just the rough carpentry but the finish work too.

          A Waits line like “And it’s a battered old suitcase / to a hotel someplace / and a wound that will never heal” is a novel in 17 words.

          • Pat O’Brien Says:

            So folks, one of my guitar buddies for example say they don’t care about lyrics and just want melody. Telling a story using only melody with a small group or a single player is a big ask. A song with great lyrics and a lousy melody quickly dies. To put both together in one song is magic. How about this example? There is some serious guitar playing going on here as well.

          • Patrick O'Grady Says:

            That’s a good one, and oddly it’s been stuck in my head for a while lately. I wonder what Jim Croce would’ve become had he lived.

            Also, I wish Steve Goodman had lived to write and play for a few more decades. How do you like this one?

          • Pat O’Brien Says:

            That’s a real beauty. He and John Prine were good friends, and had Steve won his cancer battle as John did, I bet he would have signed with Old Boy Records.

          • Patrick O'Grady Says:

            Steve got around during his too-short tour of duty. He was also in Buffett’s Coral Reefers backup band. I love this tune — short and sweet, like “Frank’s Wild Years.”

        • SAO' Says:

          Interesting kismet or coincidence or something like that, but Jimmy Buffett’s “The Ballad of Spider John” was written by Loveland’s Willis Alan Ramsey, who was yanked from the audience to play a couple of songs during the most recent Lovett and Keen tour. (Their evergreen joke is that his long-anticipated second album should be out soon.)

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