Jim Childs Q&A: New head of Falcon Guides navigates the digital publishing frontier

One the outdoor industry's venerable guidebook brands has a new owner. We talk to its new leader to find out what's ahead.
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You don’t have to tell us that the publishing industry is a whole new ballgame these days.

This past summer, one of the outdoor industry’s leading guidebook names, Falcon Guides, gained a new owner and leadership, after its parent company Globe Pequot Press was sold to Rowman & Littlefield.

In October, Jim Childs, the former president of Time Inc.’s book and special issue magazine division, was named the new publisher of Globe Pequot, including Falcon. We find out what’s ahead for the business as digital publishing continues to evolve the industry.

Where does the outdoor guidebook business find itself these days? What are the challenges and opportunities?
Falcon has made great strides on the digital and mobile fronts. In fact, virtually all of our guides are now available as ebooks through Apple, Amazon and other vendors. And yet print still drives our business. We publish 100 new print titles each year, and we maintain an active backlist of more than 1,000. Why print? Because that’s what outdoor enthusiasts want with them when they hit the trail, stream or crag. In that sense, Falcon Guides has been mobile from day one — ever since we published our first guide in 1979. The challenge with digital is how best to provide content to our readers on any device in a cost-effective way. The great opportunity with digital publishing, however, is that it will increasingly allow us to have continual interaction with our consumers through interactive platforms. That relationship is harder to build with a consumer who buys a guide at a store or orders one online.

When considering content — how does it differ when presenting it on a tablet versus a book? What do emerging technologies allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
Digital versus print isn’t really an issue for us when considering content. Everything we publish is created for print and digital simultaneously, and as the technology advances the lines between e-book, apps and websites fade. Nevertheless, we have to pay attention to how those experiences differ. With Trails.com, through which all of our hiking content is available online, we’re experimenting with their new mobile interface that offers a responsive design that can adapt to the size of any screen. It’s exciting to see what new developments in technology allow us to do. In a digital format, our hikes are no longer just static PDFs, but are also interactive. We’ve developed a dozen interactive guides with Inkling.com, which are available at the app store and Inkling.com/falcon.

What are some the fastest-growing/best selling outdoor topics or guide locations Falcon is writing about today?
Some of our best-selling books continue to be solid backlist titles, like John Long’s classic How to Rock Climb! — which has sold well over 400,000 copies over the past couple of decades. But the categories where we’re seeing exciting new growth include active families, backcountry skiing, stand-up paddling, slacklining, and how-to books that are helping a whole new generation of climbers transition from the climbing wall to the rock.

It seems as if every outdoor brand wants to be a content provider these days. Many are finding it isn’t as easy as it seems. Do have any tips on producing and marketing good content?
At the risk of stating the obvious, you’ve got to know your consumers — their likes, wants and needs. Then you’ve got to find your focus and know your strengths. Of course, that’s often easier said than done. We’re all faced with limited time and resources, so you’ve got to pick the best projects that will have the greatest impact. It’s one thing to spot new trends; it’s another to invest in activities and projects that people will still be passionate about 10 or 20 years later. Getting that right — more times than not — has been the key to Falcon’s success for some 35 years.

When you’re at Outdoor Retailer, what are you looking to see or learn?
I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and activities. What new things are companies trying, and what things have they stopped doing that used to work for them? Who are the new names and faces of the outdoor world? Our brand reputation is built on the expertise of our authors, so we’re always looking for knowledgeable experts to add to our roster. Finally, I keep an eye out for new potential Falcon partners — profit and non-profit companies with whom we share objectives and can pool resources and work together toward our goals. Since one of Falcon’s main goals is to get more people outside to enjoy the great outdoors, finding new partners among Outdoor Retailer’s 30,000 like-minded attendees is never a hard job.

--David Clucas

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