Every now and then something happens and the world slightly shifts. Afterwards, nothing is ever quite the same. Over the last few years the publishing industry has been going through a monumental upheaval, one not seen since 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg perfected the printing press. The internet has taken us to places most of us could barely have imagined just a few short years ago. Sales of traditional magazine and books are plunging and the industry is clawing desperately to find ways to create new business models that are both workable and profitable.
Which brings me to Vertical Life, Australia’s first online climbing magazine. Vertical Life will be published quarterly and is to be accompanied with what the publishers call a “once-a-year, high-end printed tome”. A limited release printed magazine is a great idea and is welcome news to all of us who feel a little sheepish carrying our iPads into the toilet. The two editors have a long pedigree in adventure publishing and it shows. Ross Taylor is a talented writer who started here at Open Spaces in 2005 before moving on to Wild Publications, where he ended up editing both Rock and Wild magazines. After Wild Publications were acquired by Prime Creative Media in 2009 Ross continued on as editor before leaving in 2011 to start his own business. Simon Madden’s prolific and often witty writing skills will be familiar to readers of Wild, Rock and Outer Edge magazines.
So what do I think about Vertical Life? Put simply it’s a very welcome addition to a marketplace where most other outdoor magazines are becoming increasingly less relevant. Vertical Life looks and feels fresh. Many of the key images are evocative, the online medium allowing for larger and more vivid presentations. I was also pleased to see a broad range of feature stories. My fear of wall to wall tribes of beanie-wearing, half naked ‘mattress backs’ didn’t eventuate and instead I was treated to a very fattening slice of the climbing gamut. One thing that I did notice though, was a distinct lack of photographs showing easier climbs. Apart from the wonderful Mike Meadows historic piece Climbing for Climbing’s Sake, you have to turn to page 110 to see a route graded under 22 (okay, Titan in Ross Taylor’s Titan Free is supposed to be only 19 but I figure anything on Mount Geryon’s massive East Face has got to be harder than your average grade 19 at the You Yangs). The other thing which I found mildly annoying was the overuse of the (mainly triangular) opacities used as overlays across too many stories and photographs. This is only a minor design issue though and it certainly won’t bother most readers. My favourite articles? To be honest I enjoyed then all, but I did get a belly laugh out of Steve Kelly’s RAD BAD or Just Plain Sad. I also loved the interview with Mayan Smith-Gobat, and reading Beginnings by Andrea Hah. As a photographer myself I found the interview and video with Australia’s (and possibly the world’s) most accomplished climbing photographer, Simon Carter, especially interesting.
My only real criticisms tend to be technical ones. Vertical Life is created as a PDF, but for some reason it isn’t formatted like a normal PDF for use as an online magazine. This means that it opens using a browser such as Firefox, Internet Explorer 9 or Safari (all of which I tested with no apparent issues) and in Adobe Acrobat. What I really wanted to do was to save the PDF to my desktop and then open it in a digital ebook reader such Adobe Digital Editions. It’s a real inconvenience to not be able to save Vertical Life into my personal book and magazine collection for later reading. When I did finally open it in Adobe Digital Editions it appeared with no cover thumbnail on the Table of Contents, nor was there an interactive contents list. I also found that navigating through the magazine to be cumbersome. The contents page was not interactive and there was no obvious way of moving easily from one story to another (other than page by page). The other thing that slightly annoyed me (when using a browser) was that when I did click on a link (video, link or whatever) I lost my place in the magazine. I’d much rather the link opened in a new tab. All this sounds like nitpicking and to some extent it is as I’m sure that all of these issues will be ironed out in the second edition. Perhaps the editors will eventually look at releasing Vertical Life in both PDF and ePub versions.
Overall the first issue of Vertical Life is an impressive debut and both Ross and Simon should be very proud of what they have achieved. Australian climbers now have a new and vibrant magazine to look forward to. For the Australian climbing community I’d like to think that Vertical Life has slightly shifted our world. Surely climbing magazines will not be the same again.
Vertical Life is available as a free download from verticallifemag.com.au and is published by Adventure Types.