This Is Why Adventure Journal Doesn’t Accept Sponsored Content

And here’s the one thing you can do to keep AJ thriving.


Hello, AJ family! A lot of you took our 2018 reader survey, and one result stood out above all the others: Nearly 90 percent of you don’t like sponsored content in outdoor publications. So, guess what? Oh, right, you read the headline—there’s no sponsored content in AJ.

So, why don’t we accept it? Well, we believe that sponsored content compromises a publication’s ability to be honest, that it erodes reader trust, and that it can turn an independent voice into little more than a vehicle for marketing. We believe in journalism and we believe you should be able to trust the messenger. We believe that there’s a place for marketing and a place for honest opinion and that the two should be separate.

We also know that the AJ readership is made up of our friends, soon-to-be friends, and just-haven’t-met-yet friends, and we would never be able to look you in the eye if what we wrote and shared didn’t come purely from our hearts.

But here’s the thing: Because we don’t sell our reviews or social posts, or give coverage in exchange for advertising, we also rely on readers like you for support. And the biggest boost of support you can provide is to subscribe to Adventure Journal in print.



At $60 a year, I know that’s a big ask. But the stories and photos and recipes in AJ are exclusive to print. We won’t ever put them online. They’re designed to be read in the luxurious tactile experience of paper and ink.

It also costs a lot to produce such a beautiful product, including paying our writers and photographers what they deserve, and in return you get what feels more like a book than a magazine—a publication filled with evergreen stories and photos you can enjoy for years to come, from the best adventure writers and photographers in the world. It looks fantastic on your coffee table, and you get a book whose readers tell us, unsolicited, that it’s the best outdoor publication they’ve ever seen. You get a journal whose readers love it so much, 90 percent of them renew.

Our introductory package is our most popular—it includes a year’s subscription plus the current issue to read now. The shipping is free to U.S. addresses. We throw in AJ stickers. And if you don’t like the journal, cancel at any time for a refund of any unsent issues. Already subscribe? Stoke out a friend. Tell a friend.

AJ depends on readers like you. Please subscribe.

Thanks.

Steve Casimiro
Editor


Wondering what’s in Adventure Journal’s summer 2018 issue?

Let’s start with an attempt by Joey Schusler and two friends to cross the Olympic Peninsula by foot, ski, and packraft, running the now-freeflowing Elwha River, where that photo above was shot.

Then how about a look at the craziness of climbing Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, by Brad Rassler?

Or the story behind what might be the most spectacularly located cabin, with photos by Chris Burkard?

From there, we deconstruct the tragic winter climb of Nanga Parbat by Tomasz Mackiewicz, who overcame heroin addiction and funded his expeditions by doing auto body work.

There’s the short history of the public campground…a long dog tale you’ll never forget…and a wild photo portfolio of the new Stone Age pilgrims who’ve turned their backs on modern life to live fully and completely paleo.

Get Adventure Journal here.


Unsolicited Reader Comments

“What don’t I like??? Seriously, the layout, the articles and pictures are amazing. I love the feel and the looks of the print. I wish there was more than 4 issues a year, but that also helps keeping the quality.”

“AJ journal is one of the only sources of well written, outdoor-focused storytelling. I love mix of historical items and modern adventuring in many different realms. I also love the fact the magazine is not inundated with advertising and forceful of certain brands and positive reviews due to sponsoring.”

“AJ is the epitome of what an outdoor magazine should be. A mix of realistic adventuring, stories from people from all forms of outdoor sports, honest reviews, and great photography.”

“I love everything about the print magazine. Great writing, photography, and art. I love the timeless subject matter. I like that there are no gear reviews, or destinations lists. I like the stories on artists. I like the limited ad space and the aesthetically pleasing ads.”

“I love the quality of the physical product. A lot of magazines feel wasteful. After you read them, you recycle them or throw them away. With AJ, they are something to keep on the coffee table and then on the bookshelf – to be shared with family and friends and referenced later. I like the content and the quality of writing – even if it is something that I am not really interested in – I end up enjoying the articles.”

 

Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.
Showing 42 comments
  • Kyle
    Reply

    Keep it up! The Summer journal is fantastic so far. AJ remains the best outdoor publication out there.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Thanks, Kyle!

    • kevin
      Reply

      Awesom article!

      Thank you!

  • Bryan Simmons
    Reply

    Keep it up Steve….AJ Team does great work.

  • Rob
    Reply

    In Cas We Trust.

  • Brandon
    Reply

    God, what I would give to photograph for this publication. Not that I could ever compete with somebody as massive as Burkard…

    Love my AJ09!!

  • Abomb
    Reply

    Yes, please don’t be like Outside Online and try to convince me to buy a $100 “ultralight” 5 lb cast iron skillet when a heavy $15 one works just fine. I hope that’s not in the mag somewhere…

    Although this is news to me that you guys don’t do sponsored content. I was under the impression the gear and apparel reviews were sponsored. Do you guys offer a sneak peak of the subscription mag beyond the brief clips above?

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Abomb—sorry, we do not.

  • TJ
    Reply

    so it sounds like if you order this you get the 4 issues for $60 plus the current one. But when I try and purchase it it adds the current issue for an extra $18?? That doesn’t make sense or sound like a deal??

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      TJ—apologies for mis-explaining it. You’d think professional communicators would be better at communicating. Subscriptions and single copies are processed differently and the costs (our costs) are different. This bundles a subscription (four issues, 20% discount, free shipping) with a single copy (regular cost + shipping). Of course, on our shopping page you can order a single issue without a subscription and vice versa.

      Sorry for the confusion!

      • Rachel
        Reply

        I too was a little confused. It sounded like my ski pass, buy in April, ski for free the rest of the spring and then get to use it come winter. Totally sucked me in! I’m sure I’ll discover it was all worth it in the end…

        • Steve Casimiro
          Reply

          I have updated the language on the product page. Hope it’s clear now!

  • Jamie
    Reply

    Awesome explanation! There are indeed few independent voices of the quality of AJ. As someone who works in marketing and is aware of the measures brands and publications go to this is super refreshing. There is no substitute for the real deal, and readers know the difference.

  • Dave P
    Reply

    It is truly excellent content. I was at my favorite Indie bookstore, Bright Side in Flagstaff and noticed their prominent display. Picked up Issue 05. So good.

  • Kevin
    Reply

    Hi Steve, Maybe it’s time to think about sponsored content. Maybe do another poll to see if people would really stop reading AJ if you had a little sponsored content. I know it’s not part of your ethos, but publishing hard copy AJ must get expensive. You folks do such a great job with online and hard copy AJ. I would hate to see your pub go south like Nat Geo Adventure. When push comes to shove, those bills, both personal and business need payment. We don’t have to be inundated with the sponsored stuff but if enough folks don’t pony up to the bar and buy a sub, then who knows what the future holds, So folks, pull up a stool, reach into your wallet and buy a subscription. You won’t be disappointed.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Kevin—thanks for your open mindedness. Never say never, but I feel pretty comfortable saying never. We want and need readers to be a part of the business (and they/you are), to be invested in the product, partially to reduce the pressure on advertising needs but also because that’s the kind of relationship we want with our readers. And I’m not making it up when I say you’re our friends—20 percent of our readership works in the outdoor industry. You are our friends.

      But we do need growth in the number of subscribers. We absolutely need it. We need to at least triple where we are now for us to be what I would call “comfortably sustainable.” That extra revenue will enable us to get more help, to have a travel budget for stories, to make more original photo assignments.

      Most people don’t know that “AJ” is just Joni and me working out of our home office. This model currently doesn’t support an office (nor do we want one, frankly) or staff. We do everything there is to do—customer service, packaging, production, social media, everything. And that’s okay at the moment, because that’s what it takes to get such a high quality publication produced in small quantities. But to bring you the best publication and website we can, to fulfill the vision I have for AJ, we need more revenue and we really need more people who love AJ to step up. I don’t like asking, and nobody likes being shaken down, but I think it’s important talk about the practical and financial realities of what it takes to make something that matters.

      National Geographic Adventure failed primarily, though not solely, because the business model essentially gave away copies at dramatically reduced cost in order to build circulation to 650,000 each issue so it could charge extremely high rates for its ads. That’s like a one-legged stool. When the ad market collapsed in 2009, the magazine folded.

      I like to think I learned those lessons. 🙂 Our model is designed to spread revenue (and risk) evenly between advertising and readers.

      And our scale is also radically different. Outside currently has about 675,000 readers. We can do everything we want to do and then some if we get to 10,000. But without a marketing staff or budget, the only way we’ll get close is if I ask and, because we’re all well-intended but busy and distracted, keep asking and asking and asking.

  • Courtney
    Reply

    AJ in print is THE BEST! Thanks for all of the hard work! Side-anecdote: this past spring, I was anxiously awaiting my AJ 08, when I got an email from Joni asking if I had received it. I replied that I had been on the lookout, but had not yet received it. Turns out it had been mangled in transit and returned to AJ HQ. Joni sent me a pic of the label – it looked pretty illegible, but somehow she had deduced that it was my copy and reached out. She promptly sent me a new one. Talk about customer service. Thanks so much – you guys are great!

  • Ted
    Reply

    Awesome stance. Thanks, Steve. Look forward to subscribing when I can!

  • Chris
    Reply

    You had me at stickers.

  • Thomas Pickard
    Reply

    I have to agree – sponsored content is horrible. The more editorial content becomes a thin disguise for ads, the faster a publication looses its focus on what it should be doing – creating great content. Just look at the monetisation of Outside Online over the past few years’ (if I see another ‘the gear you need this summer” post on Outside Online, I’ll probably puke…)

    I recently looked at a subscription of AJ, but it comes in at a hefty $25 NZD an issue, by the time I buy an international subscription and take into account the USD to NZD conversion rate. Unfortunately – and it is unfortunate – our little family can’t afford to drop that sort of coin on a magazine, even if it is as good as AJ.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Thomas, your pain is our pain. I wish there was a better way to get journals outside the US. The weight of the package is 19 ounces—far too heavy to qualify for lower rates—and we don’t want to reduce the quality by using thinner paper stock.

      If anyone knows how to move freight around the world affordably, if anyone has a connection with Australian or European periodical distributors, I’d love to know about it.

  • Matt
    Reply

    Just renewed! Thanks! I’ve been feeling like Outside and Backpacker are just all paid gear advertising these days… Keep up the good work!

  • Mike
    Reply

    Love the magazine (if you could even call it that) Its more like a work of art. Keep it up!

  • Tobin
    Reply

    AJ stickers?? Can I get one even though I have subscribed for a long time? Man, stickers…..

  • James Allen
    Reply

    So, honest question; is AJ paid by or supplied the products in the “Gear” section for free from the manufacturers for a “review” and/or endorsement?

    If AJ is purchasing the gear without any knowledge/pre-published notice to the manufacturers, then I’m all in and totally agree in your publication concept.

    If, however; AJ is being supplied all the products for favorable spotlights in the Gear section, then I’d have to disagree that you are an ad-free publication and free of sponsored content.

    I’ll contend and agree with others that your photos are spectacular, your in-depth essays and reports are interesting and keep me coming back for more, but I get an off-putting sense when I read some of the gear reviews as they come across more as sponsorship and spotlighting rather than gritty, real world, put it through the paces reviews… I’ve asked a number of follow-up questions on pieces of gear that were promised to have a long-term use and updated reviews on, but without much in the way of substance from the reviewers.

    I’ll grant you that AJ has shown me a number of pieces of gear that I didn’t previously know about, but many that I’d consider in the ether of cost v. value…

    • Craig Rowe
      Reply

      I can help answer this: objective gear reviews are easier than you think, but they come down to the journalistic ethics of the publication. I am paid to write gear reviews by an online publication, and I’m looking at a pile of gear from many major brands at the moment, who each have significant pull in the industry. Thankfully, I write for a pub whose founders have a history in journalism. That’s the difference. Now, there is also truth to the notion that few items made today are inherently “bad,” or not worth buying. Some are indeed better than others, and that’s what needs to come across in a solid review. I can see how not seeing an outright negative review of a piece of gear may prompt a reader to think the writer is being soft, but it’s rarely the case. Additionally, sometimes gear needs to be reviewed/used for months before an adequate assessment can be made. Problem is, publication deadlines don’t always line up. Thus, maybe that piece of gear would have broke the next time out, but during the last test before final edit, it remained in sound working condition, fulfilling its promise to the buyer. It’s the nature of writing about gear.

      • Steve Casimiro
        Reply

        Craig—I disagree. Objective reviews are impossible because of the subjective nature of testing and interpreting performance. Being objective is possible, but anything that filters through a human will be subjective. And legitimately objective measures, as can be found in a lab, don’t necessarily apply to real world experience.

  • Steve Casimiro
    Reply

    Hey, y’all. Just received this email from a brand that will not be named. This is the kind of stuff I deal with every day. It’s easy money. I understand why marketing people do it and I understand why publications do it. I just happen not to agree.

    “I know Adventure Journal doesn’t typically write sponsored posts. But we do consider it one of the best outdoor publications out there, so I’d love to do whatever possible to help merit coverage for XXXXXXX. We think it’d really resonate with your readers.”

  • Steve Casimiro
    Reply

    And, yes, if you’re wondering, I do feel a wee bit uncomfortable pulling back the curtain on the interchanges between promoters and the media. Maybe that burns a bridge. Oh, well. But maybe if we start talking about these things and make them transparent, more media titles will feel empowered to take their own stands. (Or not—there’s a lot of money to be made in sponsored posts. Ha, I should have asked how much they’d pay.) At minimum, we citizens deserve to be armed with the truth so we can make informed decisions about whom to support, and why.

  • adam
    Reply

    I would really love to see reviews and articles that talk about the best gear per user. I bring this up because I work in the ski industry and I know first hand that it’s pay to play in most of the big “best of” reviews that come out. At the end of the day all a consumer gets is what some guy thought was best that day on his mtn. It is certainly not the best product for everyone. What would reach more people is how to decide what is best for them and an in depth look at some of the products that represent the clear differences. I think consumer education is really the biggest key to moving sports forward.

  • Steve Casimiro
    Reply

    Okay, let’s talk about the can of worms that is gear. First to you, James. No, AJ is not paid by any brands to write about or promote their gear. Nobody pays us for favorable coverage or even asks for favorable coverage (see the rare exception, above). Some of the gear we write about is purchased by us, some of it is loaned by the manufacturer. Loaned gear belongs to the manufacturer and is just that: loaned. There’s no quid pro quo, no “just between us and the fence post.” We borrow some of the gear, write honestly about what we find, and that’s that.
     
    Is this the perfect situation? No. The perfect situation would have us entirely supported by readers and we’d purchase the gear at retail. Far as I know, the only publication on the planet that does that is Consumer Reports, and I don’t know if they pay retail. 🙂 Outdoor publications are loaned gear by manufacturers, and there’s no other way to do it. It’s simply financially unviable.
     
    Yes, the word in the aisles is that pretty much everything is pay to play, that awards are based on advertising relationships. I have not witnessed that myself, but if there’s no fire, there sure is a lot of smoke. Which kinda breaks my heart. I was the primary gear reviewer for National Geographic Adventure for nine years in print and another seven years online and not once was my coverage influenced by advertising considerations, nor did anyone above me try to influence me. Prior to that, I reviewed gear for Men’s Journal and also for Outside (and a whole bunch of other titles) and never did they try to guide my product selections. Going back even further, I headed both Powder and Bike magazines. Same story there. Editorial was independent of advertising. The wall between church and state was strong.
     
    I understand your cynicism, or maybe it’s just well-earned skepticism. Things absolutely have changed, and it’s not just rumors—a contract selling editorial coverage on one large bike site was posted publicly online a couple years ago. It’s really gross right now and from afar maybe AJ doesn’t look so different. Gear is smaller part of our editorial than a lot of titles and we when do do reviews, they’re of products we liked—they’re positive reviews. If we were Consumer Reports, then we’d be more likely to feature products that left us cold, but given our limited resources and given that our goal isn’t to be the number one gear site, we’re going to spend our time sharing our experience with products that we think are worth knowing about.
     
    Now, as for being influenced, despite that attempt to buy a sponsored review that I posted above, the public relations people we deal with are professional and know that trying to influence a review would result in a broken relationship. To the few brands that have offered product in exchange for a review—never a legit or well-known outdoor brand—we have politely (okay, maybe not always politely) said no and then closed the door to them. I don’t know how it is at other publications now, but there’s no better way to alienate a reviewer than to try to guide their review.

    • James Allen
      Reply

      Firstly, thank you Steve; it’s refreshing and more than a bit satisfying to receive an honest and straight-forward answer. I’d say that, yes, my position is one of skepticism more than cynicism (though I’ve been accused of that more than once).

      I genuinely appreciate the gear reviews that AJ does publish as, most of them, are of gear that’s just not on my radar and some that I’ll bookmark for later research/purchase. I’m a mountain biker and cyclist by evening and weekends and a quality control admin by career so gear (DC power), reviews, and exhaustive research are kind of in my wheelhouse; thus the inquiry.

      I was frustrated by becoming interested in reviews of gear that I would honestly fund value in, only to feel a bit let down when nearly all of them were like so many passing clouds… interesting while in view, but fleeting and gone from the memory banks in this ever-so-fast-paced world.

      I believe one solution to gritty, transparent gear reviews would be to qualify some of your more active and fervent readers as real world, “boots on the ground” reviewers, possibly even a lottery style of choice among willing subscribers that are approved by survey and committee (from AJ’s staff) as a supplement to the paid gear review appearing on the site.

      At any rate, with your honest response, I’ve committed to a subscription and intend to gift one to my best friend as some wild inspiration to get his butt out of the house and adventuring with me again.

      • Steve Casimiro
        Reply

        James—thanks for your lengthy thoughts. Trust me when I say that in 30-plus years of doing it, I’ve thought about gear coverage from every angle I could see. On the one hand, I agree with you that in-depth and deeply researched reviews could have a lot of value. On the other, the ROI on that for any publication is deeply negative. Our big challenges at AJ are that most readers don’t want to pay for anything, advertisers have so many more options than they once did, and the dynamic of online media rewards many, frequent, and superficial posts. I liken it to pedaling your lowest gear going downhill—you spin like a madman but don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

        As for engaging readers, well, hmmm. Certainly an interesting idea. I find myself thinking a lot about the best way for AJ to cover gear with our extremely limited resources, and the format I find most interesting is the one that I adopted when writing about selecting my 4Runner. It was less of a gear review but more of a shared thought process that led to a buying decision. We’ve had 30-plus comments on the story already and all of them add to our collective knowledge of 4Runners, SUVs, and buying adventure vehicles. So, yeah—I love the idea of our reviews as the beginnings of a community discussion. In our jobs, we get to see gear before it hits retail, and we often get to try multiple versions of a style of product and so can better compare, but it’s an absolutely a fact that many if not most of our readers use their gear as much or more than we do, and with 20 percent of our readers working in the industry, it’s also a fact that many of them know more about gear than we do. If we can weed out the trolls and those who just want to complain about high prices, I’m all for exploring more reader-sourced experience.

  • Steve Casimiro
    Reply

    Adam, you make great points. If I recall correctly, I ruffled a few feathers when I was editor of Powder and published an opinion story called “Ski Test Suck” or some such title. The fact is that most reviews are basically what one guy thought from a day or two or three on the mountain. Or on the bike. Or in the water. The idea of objective reviewing, or even objectivity approached by using lots and lots of testers, is a fallacy. It’s not even a goal worth pursuing. A gear review is always going to be subjective, always going to be personal, and always at risk of having no bearing on someone else’s experience.
     
    This takes us down another rabbit hole, or at least it takes Justin and me down one as we discuss what we think AJ’s gear coverage should be. You guys tell us over and over again that you like how we don’t go crazy with gear coverage, how we’re not like the other guys, and yet, guess what the most popular story category is on AJ? Yep, gear.
     
    I think this is a longer discussion for another day. I’m very curious what AJ readers would like to see from our coverage, but I don’t know if we could possibly get a clear answer. Our 2018 reader survey was helpful in a lot of ways, but boy were there a lot of contradictory comments in there.
     
    Let me close with this: I would approach gear reviews, whether on AJ or elsewhere, just as you would a movie review. Get to know the reviewer and their likes and biases. Find people whose experience mirrors your own and that you can trust. Our reviews have been somewhat personal and are only going to get more so: You need to understand a bit about the messenger in order to understand the message when it’s as subjective as a gear review.

  • Dan
    Reply

    OK, finally subscribed.
    When you started the mag two years ago, my wife and I were going away for a long time, and I was cancelling subscriptions, not adding new ones.I go to AJ regularly now and forward a lot of stories to friends.Just great stuff.
    Looking forward to my first issue.

  • Nick
    Reply

    Not only subscribing to help avoid sponsored-content, but look forward to supporting the continued development of a beautiful product. Thanks for the notes Steve.

  • DrSte
    Reply

    I always assumed that the gear reviews with comments disabled were sponsored content! Good to know that it’s not. I can’t read all the big glossy expensive journals I already subscribe to (Alpinist, Ski Journal, Surfers…), but one of those might get dropped next year for AJ. Anyway, I’ll read the sight more often now that I know you’re not deceiving us.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      The only time we close comments is where there are trolls or unwarranted negativity. We welcome constructive comments, as well as constructive criticism of the product or our take on it.

  • David
    Reply

    Steve and Joni, thank you so much for your hard work. Your magazine is excellent!

    Gear is the favorite conversation of outdoor enthusiasts. Thus the popularity, but let’s be honest; gear is utterly boring. It is the adventurers equivalent of talking about the weather. I find that the monetization of every aspect of life is a distraction, appropriating the essence of our human experience. For example it astounds me that anyone feels part of a group of kin by way of displaying the symbol for a cooler… (I am guilty of sticker love.) Tapping into the idea of what humans wish for, is the secret to marketing and the death of communication So Steve, AJ’s philosophy is commendable, in fact the integrity of your design is important. And I will advertise your publication as an authentic brand 😉 I am, proudly, a day one subscriber. (And I’m sorry my address changes so often.)

    Also, reading and writing these comments helps me articulate, what I think are important concepts. AJ does more then take a stand, it addresses a discomforting trend of manufacturing desire. I mean that sometimes we climb to become the person we where advertised to be. No one entity deliberately creates our inner-reality, but as an industry the stoke is manufactured. I think this is bad because is obscures the actual experience of adventure that is profound and should be celebrated. To sum up it up, I am talking about creativity. That is the essence of the adventure. It’s worth paying for.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      David—thanks.

      Another way to think about what we’re trying to do…I always felt that most magazines are preying on your insecurities (you’re doing it wrong and only we have the answer so buy this magazine). AJ’s goal is to celebrate your (our) strengths.

      Maybe it’s just me, cause I have to view so much media to do my job, but I feel that everything is about manipulation these days for some kind of sell. Our stories are just stories.

      One of our flaws, hopefully not a fatal one haha, is that we don’t sell what we have enough. Hence requests like this.

      • David
        Reply

        I wonder if you could start a NGO to help maintain your vision; think big, “The Adventure Society”?

  • Katherine
    Reply

    AJ is as good as it gets. At risk of repeating what’s already been said, here’s when I realized this is and always will be whatever you want to charge me annual for a subscription: I even read and enjoy the surfing articles.

    I was raised landlocked and live near mountains. I don’t like water, the ocean even less so. Surfing culture is generally the antithesis of my personality. But in AJ, I devour every story, including the ones about ocean-based adventures when I would otherwise say, “I don’t care about that stuff at all.”

    THAT is how good the storytelling in AJ is. I enjoy reading things about topics I know nothing about. Thank you for compelling me. I get lots of magazines (that, let’s be honest, rotate in and out of the bathroom), but AJ is the one that lives on my coffee table. And I don’t skip a word of it.

    Cheers.

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