If bragging rights alone can’t motivate your sorry ski bum out of bed for that sweet, sweet 20th day on the slopes, then Robin Thurston, CEO of Outside Magazine’s parent company, has a novel idea that might.
He calls it the “Outerverse”: A platform where hikers, bikers, runners, skiers – outdoor-doers the world over – can earn rewards for tracking their real-life activity atop crypto rails. Skiers, for example, could unlock chances at a heli-skiing expedition, Zoom calls with famous photographers, perhaps Warren Miller movie tickets – definitely non-fungible tokens (NFT) – by notching days out on the snow.
Outside Interactive, the conglomerate behind Outside Magazine and a raft of outdoor journalism outposts from Backpacker to Climbing, as well as fitness lifestyle brands such as Yoga Journal, is leaning into Web3 with an “anti-metaverse” NFT platform. The aim is to give readers incentive to spend more time among the trees rather than vegetating in VR.
“Our underlying goal is to get people outside,” said Thurston. “This sort of convergence of technology, you know, Web3 culture – you can’t ignore.”
The newly launched Web3 gambit – it commenced this week with sales of 10,000 Outerverse “passport” NFTs for 5 SOL (or a roughly $225) a pop – is one front in Outside’s wider battle for supremacy and relevancy on the outdoor media market’s digital stage. Reader desires are changing, Thurston told CoinDesk. Niche magazines just don’t command the audience they once did.
Whether an NFT-yielding platform that rewards readers for going outside will command such a pull is the big question now. Thurston certainly thinks so. He sees no issue with Outside’s blending of cryptotech and crunchy granola.
In a few months, its Outerverse will start pulling data from fitness-tracking apps; users whose stats pass a certain performance benchmark get access to experiences as well as NFT drops from creators such as photographers and videographers. They’ll be able to sell their NFT-ified creations to consumers through the Outerverse marketplace, too.
It might seem a little odd to leverage tech that flourished during COVID-19 lockdowns as incentive to get outside. But it’s not without precedent. Solana-based fitness game Stepn sees thousands of NFT-holding runners track their jogs with GPS in exchange for tokens. Web2 running platforms such as Strava also gets people moving via social competition.
Thurston said the Outerverse picked the Solana blockchain for its energy efficiency (Ethereum, where most NFTs live, remains until the Merge an electricity guzzler – a big no-no for an outside-oriented project). To further offset the Outerverse’s footprint, Outside will buy carbon credits, he said.
The Outerverse’s “Outside to Earn” model is a lot less chain-heavy than Stepn’s “Move to Earn” mishmash of rights-bearing NFTs and token payouts, said Kevin Chou, who helped build the former with his Web3 venture studio, SuperLayer.
“We’re not catering to the CryptoPunk community, necessarily,” Chou said, referencing the pricey Ethereum-based NFT status symbol that launched in 2017. “But we want to make this as Web3 as possible, and help a Web2 company make the transition into Web3.”
Outside Interactive, Inc. is itself emerging from a digital metamorphosis that has nothing to do with crypto. The media conglomerate in May slashed 15% of its staff and shuttered print publications for many of its niche outdoor magazines in a pivot to video and an emphasis on online content.
CEO and Chairman Thurston spearheaded that shift. He came into the media with a focus on selling tailored, personalized content. Instead of driving revenue with ads (a business model the internet decimated), his company sells $60 memberships to all Outside content. Buyers of the Outerverse “passport” NFT will get three years’ access to the bundle, known as Outside+.
He’s targeting 20 million Outside+ subscribers in the next few years; it so far boasts over 800,000, according to a company rep.
Thurston said the pivot was necessary for a reader base overwhelmingly consuming Outside content online: “We wanted to be clear that we are digital first.” The Outerverse is part of the digital revamp, he said.
Along with driving people outdoors, Thurston said the Outerverse wil give creators – those making Warren Miller ski films and capturing gallery-worthy national parks photos – a chance to earn revenue directly from consumers. It has lined up over 40 outdoor “creators” to sell or share NFT versions of their work on the Outerverse Marketplace.
One of them is professional rock climber Sasha DiGiulian, a co-founder of outdoor education platform ROAM (which Outside acquired in late 2021). DiGiulian said in an email the Outerverse marketplace-to-creator business model is still “a bit in the gray right now” as discussions around her NFT integrations evolve.
DiGiulian, who became interested in crypto in 2016, said NFTs give creators a chance to own their intellectual property.
“That is something that doesn’t really exist in our current, very social media-driven world. As a professional athlete, I feel this,” she said in an email. “Creating a way to unlock access, incentivize people through their own outdoor participation, reward that with usable things like a marketplace for gear – it all makes sense.”
Still, not everyone in the outdoor media world is convinced that NFT incentives are the future. One ski blogger (who admitted he neither understands NFTs nor cares to learn what they are) lambasted the Outerverse as an “impenetrable pile of garbage.”
More crypto-conscious outdoor publishers are also skeptical of the effort. Mike Rogge, publisher of the indie outdoor journalism magazine Mountain Gazette, told CoinDesk he “believes” in the potential of crypto but disdains any effort to “gamify” the outdoors.
“Their mission of diversifying the outdoors is a valiant one,” Rogge said, “but I don’t know that [NFTs are] it.”
“I think you’re missing the point of going outdoors if you want to go outside and get a token.”
Note: This reporter owns two Outerverse passports and was a former intern at Backpacker Magazine, now owned by Outside Interactive.