Jon Dorn: Editor-In-Chief, BACKPACKER
He led a series of reader-focused initiatives that transformed his magazine from folksy to contemporary and ignited newsstand sales.
In 1997, Rodale plucked Jon Dorn from researching twentieth century religious diversity for his Harvard doctorate to be Backpacker’s assistant equipment editor. Since Dorn was promoted to editor-in-chief in 2002, the magazine has enjoyed growth in single-copy sales and reader involvement is at an all-time high, both through the magazine and its Web site.
A $200,000-plus market research project found that readers were craving more information on hikes close to home. That lead to the magazine’s most profound change: Regional editions;the magazine is now published in six editions. "We tested the Northwest and California editions and both of those were off the charts," says Dorn. "We were seeing 25 to 35 percent increases in newsstand sellthrough."
Advertiser reaction was positive, too. Outdoor product retailer Campmor ran a coupon in one of the early tests that offered a 10-percent discount and saw a 35 to 40 percent increase over previous similar offers. Newsstand is up 17 percent over last year, says Dorn and PIB revenue is up 27 percent.
The popularity of GPS devices led to another breakthrough for Backpacker: Reader generated content. Hikes in the magazine were enhanced with GPS coordinates starting in spring 2004 and eventually led to the launch of a community-focused GPS Web site, backpacker.com/hikes, last August. "Since then, 140 readers have contributed at least one hike, unpaid," says Dorn. "We’ve got 600 edited trips on the site and there are just north of 6,000 total. And this isn’t unsophisticated, simple content. There are GPS files, photography, notes, and video. People are doing a lot of work to produce this content."
For Dorn, it’s this reader feedback that’s at the core of the magazine’s success. "To me what is really cool is we’re closing the loop. The readers are giving us content back."
VITAL STATS: Reader involvement is at an all-time high, and newsstand is up 17 percent.