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Michael Kennedy on Teton Pass, the Tetons, Wyoming, on January 6, 2007, the day after it was announced that Urban Climber purchased Climbing Magazine. Kennedy, who has served on Alpinist‘s advisory board since the magazine’s 2002 foundation, is currently acting as the interim business manager. He was editor, then publisher, of Climbing from 1974-1997. Climbing Magazine has changed hands four times since Kennedy sold it in 1997. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

On January 5, Skram Media LLC, the publisher of Urban Climber Magazine, announced that it had completed its purchase of Climbing Magazine. The sale adds another chapter to the series of owners since Alpinist‘s board member and interim business manager Michael Kennedy, who edited, then owned, Climbing for more than twenty years, sold the magazine in 1997.

Climbing was founded in 1970 by legendary climber Harvey Carter (for more about Carter, see Steve “Crusher” Bartlett’s article about him–“Killing Legends”–in Issue 16). Bill Dunaway, who owned the Aspen Times, bought the magazine in 1972. Kennedy began as the magazine’s editor in 1974, running it out of a back room in the Aspen offices of the newspaper. In between climbing trips that established him as one of the leading alpinists of his generation, Kennedy crafted the magazine into the premier climbing publication in the world. He purchased the magazine from Dunaway in 1987 and built the circulation to 48,000 readers over the next ten years. In 1997, he sold the magazine to Cowles Enthusiast Media and agreed to stay on with the magazine for a year after the sale.

Shortly after the sale, Cowles, which was owned by The Minneapolis Star Tribune, was bought by McClatchey Newspapers. McClatchey then sold the Cowles Enthusiast Media component of its company to Primedia in 1999. The same year, Climbing reached its circulation highpoint of ca. 52,000 readers.

The history of Climbing and its longtime competitor Rock + Ice have become closely related in recent years. Duane Raleigh, who began work as equipment editor for Climbing in the early 1990s and who served as editor through its sales to Primedia, purchased Rock + Ice Magazine from North-South Publications in 2002. He moved Rock + Ice to Carbondale, home of Climbing since 1987, and brought with him a number of Climbing‘s longtime editorial and circulation staff, including Alison Osius, Mike Benge and circulation director Paula Stepp. Dougald MacDonald, owner of Rock + Ice at the time it was purchased by Raleigh, became a major freelance contributor at Climbing. Jonathan Thesenga became Climbing‘s editor, but was fired after a New Year’s incident involving a Joshua Tree boulder, white gas, a lighter and a Park ranger. Thesenga then began freelancing for Rock + Ice, while Climbing hired Jeff Achey, who had served as photo editor under Kennedy, as its editor. Achey left in 2005 and Primedia rehired Thesenga, who was joined at the editorial helm by Matt Samet, who had shuttled between the two publications for a number of years.

At the time of the most recent sale, Climbing‘s circulation stood at roughly 40,000 readers. Rock + Ice‘s circulation is approximately 30,000. (In the four
years of its existence, Alpinist has achieved a paid circulation of
approximately 13,000.) It appears that Urban Climber/Climbing will retain the current editorial staff led by Thesenga and Samet instead of moving to Urban Climber‘s headquarters in New York City. “[Climbing and Rock + Ice] have been struggling to figure out how to appeal to younger readers,” noted MacDonald, who currently works for Climbing, on his blog, “Climbing‘s ad count has been weak in recent years, despite its circulation dominance, and the magazine has shrunk dramatically as a result….” Urban Climber, which began in 2004, focuses on bouldering, gym and sport climbing. Now that it is the parent company of Climbing Magazine, Climbing “might not feel quite so much pressure to target the youth” with its editorial, according to MacDonald. Also of interest–perhaps most notably for Raleigh’s Big Stone Publishing, which publishes Trail Runner magazine as well as Rock + Ice–was the fine print in the press release: “As well as growing existing magazines and websites, Skram Media’s future plans include the launch of a trail-running magazine.”