RIP Urban Climber Magazine

Just got this on my Facebook feed:

Urban Climber magazine, which launched in October 2004, has shipped its final issue to the printer.

The August issue, one of our best ever, will be on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes in a couple of weeks. Subscribers will be given the option of receiving Climbing magazine for the rest of their subscription term, or getting a refund. Instructions will be provided with the August issue.

On behalf of everyone ever involved in creating Urban Climber, we’d like to thank you for supporting us. It’s been quite a ride!

I worked with Urban Climber from the first issue, in 2004, until early 2010. I started as a freelancer, doing energy-drink reviews and event write-ups, then became Senior Editor and ultimately took the Editor-in-Chief seat. I accepted the latter after the publisher canned my friend, Joe Iurato. It was a painful decision, and I sometimes wonder what might of happened if I’d turned the job down. But things are what they are, and I’ll take that experience as one of the many I learned from during my UC Mag tenure…

An aside: Although I primarily wrote and edited other people’s writing for the magazine, some of my proudest contributions to Urban Climber were the cover shots I took, below. The one on the left features my good friend Robin Maslowski in Boulder, Colorado’s Movement gym; the one on the right is Jen Vennon crushing Jesus Wept, in the Red River Gorge


Back in the day, there was a lot of energy around UC, the way there is around any new venture. The first editor, Matt Burbach was motivated to do something new with climbing media. Joe, then a contributor, was bursting at the seams with genuine stoke. With the rapid growth of a climbing gym culture, of a new generation of climbers grown in the cities and suburbs, a new type of magazine seemed like a good idea — a necessity, even. It would be gritty and funny and raucous, more of a skate mag for boulderers and sport climbers who didn’t know what a “snow picket” was for and didn’t give a shit.

But over the years, the magazine’s budget stayed small when it needed to grow. Contributors who had been happy to offer up words and images on the cheap, as a way to get their foot in the door, eventually found their patience wearing thin. This contributor frustration trickled up into the editor’s psyches, making the job even more stressful than the long hours, short deadlines, and tiny staff. Often, there was just one dedicated editor and one part-time designer editing, writing, and laying out an issue of Urban Climber. Everyone’s idealism began to show cracks under the strain of real-world pressures. To be fair, UC wasn’t alone in its difficulties — the magazine industry was in deep trouble, thanks to the growing specter of the World Wide Web and its endless stream of free media. But that didn’t make the ride any less bumpy.

At the time I quit working for Urban Climber, it seemed that there were just too many climbing titles for our relatively small community to support. In 1991, when I started climbing, it was Climbing and Rock & Ice. In early 2012, there was Alpinist, Climbing, Dead Point, Gripped, Rock & Ice, and Urban Climber, plus a proliferation of online climbing mags, athlete blogs, and other personal blogs like Climbing Narc, Evening Sends, Mountains and WaterPimpin’ and Crimpin‘, Splitter Choss, and on and on…

In the end, the decision to close UC was likely simple math. I can only imagine ad sales weren’t where the publisher, Active Interest Media, wanted them to be. For myriad reasons, all magazines have had a hard time converting their print offering into a successful online offering, probably because people still don’t like to actually pay for online content, even when it replaces the paid content they used to consume. From my perspective, Urban Climber’s failure isn’t necessarily that interesting, but the bigger questions it points to are: Where should the climbing magazine industry go from here? How will existing titles thrive in a digital world? With all the videos and blogs and news aggregators out there, what is the role of a climbing magazine, anyway?

To some of us back in 2004, Urban Climber looked like the future. Now, it just seems like it was a stepping stone between the old days when Climbing Magazine ran over 200 pages, and today, when my RSS feed is full of blogs with titles like “No, I don’t give a shit that you work at the gym.” Nonetheless, I’d like to tip my hat to Matt Burbach, Joe Iurato, Andy Outis, Andrew Tower, and all of the people who I had the honor of working with at Urban Climber Magazine. It was a fun ride while it lasted.

Published by

Justin Roth

A busy mind that aspires to be still.

7 thoughts on “RIP Urban Climber Magazine”

  1. Nice post JR. Sad to see UCmag go, but is it a surprise?

    And the big question is without owners and employees that really bleed the sport — do you think ‘Climbing’ is that far behind?

  2. Tim,
    UC, like all of the climbing mags, has had to struggle to stay afloat in this crappy economy and changing media landscape. I don’t know if it was an issue of the mag not really finding a true niche, or simple competition pressures, or lack of sufficient funds to allow for the level and variety of content readers demand of a paid publication, or just a mismatch with the new publisher, whose other titles don’t seem to be very “edgy” (for example: Amazing Wellness Magazine, Arts & Crafts Homes Magazine, and Yachts International Magazine). Whatever the reason, I was a little surprised at the way it went down: no warning, just pull the plug, from what I can tell. It doesn’t sound like this final issue will be a “farewell” issue, just a last issue.

    Regarding Climbing, I think they’re aiming to occupy a solid niche: more reader-service oriented, more tech tips — they are taking more of a Backpacker-style approach. In survey after survey, readers have told the mags that one thing they want more of is this kind of usable content — technical how-tos, topos and crag write-ups, training tips, etc. Whether or not the community will ultimately embrace Climbing’s new approach is another matter, and one on which I don’t care to speculate. From a personal perspective, I certainly hope that Climbing lives long and prospers.

    But the point you raise is an interesting one: do you think companies in the climbing industry must be owned and operated by people who “bleed the sport” in order to succeed? You answer is implied by your question, but I would love to hear more of your thoughts, if you care to share. (And remember, sharing is caring.)

  3. That’s really unfortunate! I’m really sorry, I tried helping but it was too little, too late, apparently. I just subscribed last week : (

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