Out Of Competition

By Mario Fraioli

I was saddened to learn a few weeks ago that Competitor magazine, where I served as senior editor from 2010-2016, will cease to be published. The website, running.competitor.com, will continue to be operated by its new owners, Boulder-based Pocket Outdoor Media, although I’m not quite sure who will be responsible for that at this point given that the remaining full-time staff (of which there were three) was hurriedly let go last week. And while the shutting down of the magazine doesn’t necessarily come as a huge surprise (more on this in a bit), it’s still hard to see something that you poured so much energy into for so long go away for good. It was a fun run alongside some great people and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to work alongside so many talented folks who helped transform Competitor from a regional multi-sport magazine into one of the country’s top running media brands. 

So why doesn’t the shutting down of the print magazine come as a huge surprise? There are a few reasons, the main one being that Competitor hasn’t had an in-house sales team in quite some time. The result? A massive decline in ad revenue, evidenced by an emaciated magazine in recent months that mostly consisted of house ads. Print magazines are tough business in general these days but when you have a free distribution model that’s one hundred percent dependent on advertising revenue to sustain it, you need to sell a lot of ads or you’re going to go under, no matter how many readers enjoy the content. From the outside, it only seemed like a matter of time. Secondly, before Competitor was sold to Pocket Media last week, it was acquired by World Triathlon Corporation, which purchased all of Competitor Group’s assets in June, primarily for the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series, and wanted nothing to do with media per sources close to the situation. All of CGI’s media assets (including Competitor, Women’s Running, Triathlete, VeloNews and VeloPress) faced an uncertain future, so I’m glad that Pocket—whose CEO Felix Magowan previously owned Inside TriathlonVeloNews and VeloPress before selling them to CGI in 2008—acquired the titles and will invest in them to spur future growth, even though Competitor will no longer exist in magazine form and a few former colleagues are now out of work. Finally, Competitor, which was relabeled “the official magazine of the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series” last month, i.e. it was serving as branded content for the race series, didn’t stand a chance once Pocket acquired it from WTC and the race tie-in was severed.

There’s a lot that can be said about the changing media landscape in general but I’ll focus on running for a few more minutes since it’s the space I’m most familiar with. Competitor isn’t the only publication undergoing changes, as Rodale, which owns Runner’s World, will soon be acquired by Hearst, according to a recent report, and it will interesting to see what direction it goes in under the ownership of a massive media conglomerate. That publication, which is easily the largest and most recognizable in running—both in print and online—has dealt with its own challenges of late and has undergone a series of notable staff transitions in the past few months, with a new editor-in-chief taking over in June, and some notable editors and writers departing for other publications, including Jeff Dengate and Kit Fox to Men’s Journal, and Alex Hutchinson taking his talents to Outside magazine.

So what does all of this mean for consumers of good running content? Simply that the landscape is wide open right now and the places where you get your news, information, commentary and features is diversifying, which I think is mostly a good thing. The publishing industry is changing but that doesn’t mean the stories you’re interested in are going away—they’re just going to be coming at you from some new places and in different ways. I encourage you to continue following and supporting your favorite writers, photographers, film makers and storytellers, regardless of where they publish their work.

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. Sign up here to get it sent to your inbox first thing every Tuesday morning.