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Introducing John Harlin Media and the Mountain Clubs Bookstore

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John Harlin on the Super Couloir du Mont Blanc du Tacul. Roger Payne

The popularity of e-books has exploded in recent years, with some forecasts showing them set to match sales of paper (“dead tree”) books by the middle of this decade. That’s great if your tastes run to the romance novels that dominate Kindle and other e-publishing platforms. But you wouldn’t know it in the outdoor world. For climbers, “fifty shades of grey” brings to mind granite versus limestone, or maybe dirty snow and black ice. Ropes are involved, but they’re tied to nylon harnesses, not velvet collars.

John Harlin Media intends to revolutionize digital publishing for outdoor adventure and conservation. The brand-new company, named after its founder, is “soft-launching” with a strong emphasis on alpine journals from the world’s mountain clubs.

“For nearly a decade I dreamed of sharing the American Alpine Journal with the world’s climbers,” says Harlin, who served as its editor from 2002 until 2012. “But I never had the right tools for the job. Now I do.”

Despite its name, the AAJ covers the whole world. Roughly a third of the articles are by Americans—the rest are by French, Japanese, Indians, Brits, Aussies, Argentines, etc, etc. Harlin thought it a shame that the AAJ’s readership was mostly limited to American Alpine Club members. After all, he points out, the AAJ’s subtitle is “The World’s Most Significant Climbs” and its mission is to document every big new route of the year (except, ironically, those in the Alps—don’t ask why).

So he invented the Mountain Clubs Bookstore, a “room” inside John Harlin Media. But instead of limiting books to the AAJ, he’s invited all the world’s mountain clubs to participate. So far the Japanese Alpine Club (publishers of Tomatsu Nakamura’s renowned Japanese Alpine News) and the Mountain Club of South Africa have signed on, though many more are waiting in the wings.

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Few of these clubs have sold digital editions of their annual journals before. And there was no centralized place for readers to find them. So Harlin is helping the clubs to prepare their digital editions as well as providing them with a shared space to sell them in. That’s new, but it’s hardly revolutionary.

“It doesn’t sound sexy to talk about how you sell books,” says Harlin, “but this is what really gets me excited. The idea is for the world’s clubs to cross-share these books with each-others’ members. Each sale earns revenue to the customer’s club. I know how hard it is for these clubs to fund themselves—just publishing a journal is expensive. I’ll be thrilled if this earns them some money.”

The goal is for the clubs to win in two ways: Their members will discover important information they didn’t have access to before. And each time they buy a new journal they’re supporting their home club. These “affiliate bookstores” are not limited to mountain clubs. Anyone with a website or a blog can host one.

Beyond Mountains

The world’s alpine journals are just the beginning of Harlin’s ambitions for his eponymous company. From there he intends to add “rooms” to his bookshop for conservation groups and other non-profits, and also for publishers and self-published authors.

“There are just three things we must all have in common,” says Harlin. “A passion for playing outdoors, a devotion to conserving our planet, and a commitment to high quality writing and photography.”

His company is still tiny, but the foundation has been laid. He thinks that now that his website is launched he’ll be able to quickly attract all those authors and clubs that expressed interest but were waiting to see what it would look like before they jumped in.

“In a few years I hope we’ll be the go-to resource for e-books on adventure, travel, nature, conservation, and sustainable development. It’s a steep climb and the summit is far, far above. But it should be an amazing journey.” A life-long climber born for the heights (his father was an Alpine legend in the 1960s), Harlin hopes his planning is sound and his strategy strong.

He has built it. Will they come? Find out at www.JohnHarlinMedia.com

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