Magic Wood topos behind paywall, WTF!?

16 days ago

As Magic Woods was turned into .premium, there were some people who were surprised and some even got angry about the change. We decided to write an explanation, so that the reasons and the advantages would become clear for people and there wouldn’t be so much disinformation around the issue.

The post might seem long and it might intimidate you, we still urge you to read it through.

The quality of Community topo

There’s usually some kind of Community topo available for almost every crag. Its quality varies. Sometimes it’s almost as good as the Premium, but usually it’s just doesn’t come even close.

Usually the names of the routes are punched in with the highest percentage. That’s pretty obvious, because many people use 27 Crags as a log for their climbs.

Starting from the route names, things start to go downhill pretty fast. Let’s take the latest Premium topo from Magic Woods.

Case: Magic Wood

So, as said. Usually the percentage of route names in 27 Crags in a certain crag is pretty high. People punch in the name of the route and add it to the database. Unfortunately people don’t get the route name that correct when they hear it from their friend or just mistype the route name. 

Let’s take “Boulder-Fieber” for example. That’s the original name of the problem, but it can be found with names “Boca Chancla”. Maybe that’s how the Spanish people think how the route name is written when a German pronounces it? Maybe not. Anyhow, the route has also other aliases like “Bugatsanga” and “Papa Jango”. I’ve also heard (or seen) a name “Baba Django”. So, one route exists with five different names… Not good.

Before starting the Premium topo process in Magic Wood, there were 749 problems logged into the database of which 150 were duplicates (as mentioned before). So there were about 600 unique problems. After merging, sorting, removing unnamed the real count is around 1000 problems. So the community got approx. 60% of the problems right. Not bad?

So, how about pictures for the problems and the boulders itself? Percentages start plummeting. There were 50 rocks marked and around 90 pictures. But in reality there were 380 boulders and 600 pictures. So the community topo got 13% of the rocks and 15% of the pictures covered. I wouldn’t call that a complete topo…

So the community topo got 13% of the rocks and 15% of the pictures covered. I wouldn’t call that a complete topo…

But when it comes to the locations of boulders, things get really messy. Even though the GPS is far from accurate in Magic Woods, one can try to estimate the location of the boulder pretty decently. Out of those 50 marked boulders, the location was very accurate on 2 boulders (0.5%) and at the same ballpark 10 boulders (2.6%).

Information added by community vs. .premium in Magic Wood

So this is the topo Community accomplished in the 10 years existance of 27 Crags. And that’s the reason why there are Premium crags. Someone has gone through all the boulders, all the locations, all the lines and tried to make sure that the information is as accurate as possible.

Price of 27 Crags .premium

One really common misconception is that you are forced to pay monthly recurringly. You don’t! If you want to have access for all the topos (premium + offline) you pay 5 eur and you get the access for a month. That’s it. No strings attached. You can cancel your subscription any time you want.

If you want to use the topos for 3 months, it’s roughly 4 eur/month. Indoor bouldering in Europe is around 10-12eur. You can use 27 Crags for three months with a single entrance to a climbing gym! And if you buy a single monthly pass to a climbing gym, you can use 27 Crags with that money for TWO YEARS!

And if you are wondering whether the yearly subscription for 27 Crags is expensive, let’s compare that to the topo books. So, one year is 37eur. One topo guide is usually around 30 eur. If you go to Fontainebleau, you’ll usually buy first one topo (the wrong one). Then you buy maybe 5+6 or 7+8. But in the end you end up having both and maybe some topo with pictures of the rocks to get you orientated, That becomes easily 4 different guidebooks (= 120eur). 

50% of the subscription payments go straight to the topo makers! 

Then you decide to go to Magic Woods and go for the Magic Woods topo and that’s another 30eur. And if you go to these places again, the topos update and you are going to buy a newer edition. To the 150eur is only an optimistic estimation. With that money you can use 27 Crags for five years straight! Or if you take quarterly subscription timed nicely, you can enjoy 27 Crags for a decade :D

The point being… 27 Crags topos updates automagically in your pocket. You can have the topos offline, you have your location, you have the pictures of the boulders. And all this comes with no extra hassle. There will be also a feature that you can send additions/corrections to the Premium topo team, so they can check that info is correct and add that to everyone else who’s using 27 Crags!

And remember! 50% of the subscription payments go straight to the topo makers! 

This is something that paper topos have never achieved and probably won’t in anywhere near future.

But why do I have to pay?

You might have heard a saying “there’s no free lunch”. With 27 Crags it has become very clear for the founders… What have seemed to be free for you, has become very expensive for the team running 27 Crags.

Why 27 Crags would need any money or why Premium topos should cost something? How many of you do your work without a (usually monetary) compensation?

I would say that not that many. Let’s take a decent (not good, not super shitty) salary in Finland (27 Crags is from Finland btw.). The salary would be eg. 2400eur/mo. In Finland the side costs of employing people are enormous, usually around 40% in addition to the actual salary. But let’s make the ratio 28% so that it won’t be to pessimistic.

What have seemed to be free for you, has become very expensive for the team running 27 Crags.

So, the salaries for a single employee are 2400 * 12 = 28800 (One year salary). Add side costs and we end up to 37ke.

The server costs are around 1500e/mo, assuming that the amount of users and data stays about the same. You might think that you can get Amazon AWS for free, why 1500e? There are over 17 000 (freemium) users, over 70 000 routes and 120 000 boulder problems. And there are people on the website like bees in a hive.

Also, there has to be a different server for testing aside from the development server. They cannot reside on the same server, because that would render development as a test/development server. 

So, having that we end up to 55keur per year. Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Let’s remember that this includes just one employee who has to do everything starting from the coffee brewing. And here’s the important bit again: 50% OF THE SUBSCRIBTION INCOMES GO TO THE TOPO MAKERS!

Why? So that topo makers would move to the digital platform and still get paid! But won’t you get more by publishing paper topos? Let’s calculate how the money flows...

Earnings from a printed guidebook

You go to a climbing shop and buy a printed guidebook. You pay 28eur and think that the topo maker just made 28eur. Not quite right… You have to remove VAT from the price of the book (10% in Finland). It ends up being 25.45e.

But that’s not what topo maker gets, because the shop has to make profit (to hire people and pay the rents, goods etc). Usually shops pay around half of the price of the book without VAT. So it’s around 13eur in this case. That got halved fast! But that’s not all.

The book has to be designed, printed, stored, sent, invoiced etc. Deduct only the design and print and that’s 5-8e/book. So the topo maker ends up having 5-8eur per guidebook.

With that you should cover the costs of making the topo and also your living, because making a guidebook takes time, money and effort.

Printed guidebooks gives 17%-27% of the original price to the author. With 27 Crags the percentage is 50%.

Why 27 Crags takes 50%? It offers the platform, delivery, storage for the topo maker and it tries to pay the salary for the employee!

Calculations continued...

Before we ended up with turnover of 55keur. Turnover doesn’t include VAT so let’s add that so we don’t have to remove them later when we are talking about the prices to end users. So with VAT (24% in Finland) we end up with 68ke.

In order to 27 Crags have that money, the turnover has to be doubled because the other 50% goes to the topomakers. So we end up having a need for 136ke turnover. 

So we are back to the free lunch. People usually say that put advertisement, that’s how every other business does. Well… For example Facebook has one BILLION users (that 1000 times MILLION). 27 Crags has 17 000 users. So it’s a little bit different to sell advertisements for a billion users than it is to sell for 17 000 users climbing being their niche.

What kind of company would pay 136ke for advertisement for 17 000 climbers? They should have the money back somehow. There’s just no ROI (= Return of Investment) in that. The money has to come somewhere.

Up until now the owners (the founders) of the company have paid that money from their own pockets. But the situation is just unbearable. The service has been growing along with the costs, we cannot run this as our hobby anymore.

Usually companies pay for this kind of advertisements 300-1000/year. Let’s assume that we had 12 advertisers with 400e yearly payment. That makes almost 400e/month! It’s 5keur of turnover in a year. So we can deduct that from the 136ke of needed. So se need only 131ke.

Let’s divide 131ke per months, roughly 11ke. That’s the amount of money we should get in so the company would break even (= doesn’t make any profit or any loss). The subscibtions vary between 3e and 5e. So let’s take the middle, 4eur. 11 000e divided by 4eur is 2750. So we would need at least 2750 paying users to cover the one employee and server costs. Need a second employee? Double the amount. Third? Triple. And the server costs can be included because the more people you hire, the additional costs also grow.

So how far are we? 17 000 freemium users, shouldn’t be far then? But it is. We have only 400 Premium users. We need only seven times more to stay alive and make the site better.

So what?

The situation is not that the service would exist indefinitely. No. If it doesn’t start making money, it will be stopped. That happens to companies which costs are more than the income.

If the owners get fed up funding the hobby, it will be terminated. Terminating means that when you punch in 27crags.com the browser says “Server not found error”. There will be no more 27 Crags.

When many people pay a little, we can have a working service.

There have been many free climbing sites which have been run with the passion of the people. But as you get older, your priorities change and even though you love the sport, other things become more important. And if this hobby doesn’t end up being a profession it usually dwindles down and ends up in some point.

When many people pay a little, we can have a working service. Where just a couple of people pay a lot, it’s going to end.

So what to do? End 27 Crags, start 28 Crags which will be Premium-only from the scratch.

No! We would like to see 27 Crags to live and prosper. It’s suboptimal that after 10 years some crags end up being Premium. But let’s face it: it’s the only way.

What next?

Just use 27 Crags .premium! It starts from a little, but as the ball starts rolling, new crags keep flowing in! It’s catch 22 though. If you wait it to be complete, it might die while you’re waiting.

Just be brave and start using the Premium and more crags, more features, better apps and improvements will happen!

If you think about Spotify or Netflix. They didn’t have that much content at first. But at least I jumped right in. I don’t want to own CDs or DVDs (or guidebooks). I just want to listen to the music, watch movies and series and see the routes/problems.

The more the better! The more people are using The 27Crags the better it will become!

Epilogue

We have asked from the actual people who have contributed a lot to the community topos that what do they think when their work is being overridden by the Premium topo. They don’t mind that much. They usually say that “I did it while I was climbing” and “It was not such a hard work”. They also say that walking the extra mile for a complete topo is a tough job and they are happy that someone who had the energy and the knowledge, did it.

Some of you still think, that this is unfair. You can still see the list of problems, you can still use 27 Crags as logbook. You can buy a printed guidebook instead but know that the author would benefit more via 27 Crags payment model.

27 Crags has been made out of love for the sport. And it will continue if you use .premium.

With love and passion to climbing

-- The 27 Crags team


Davide Zavagno I don't know how many paying user you have. And I don't actually know how the premium user works. But if I've understood correctly you pay for one month / year and then you have access to all the topos am I correct? In my opinion would be more useful for the climber to pay for each single topo rather than for an account .. I know several people that pay for this service Bimano but I don't know anybody that is paying a premium account 27crags (even if it is way more popular) 15 days ago
Christophe Bram Thanks for your post. I like your business model, and want to support 27 Crags, so I just subscribed to a year of Premium, even though I don't need those topos for now. Thank you for all the work, I love 27 Crags! 15 days ago
Ville Muittari Awesome! Thank you for the support. It really means a lot to us. 15 days ago
Robert Lerner Hi! I really like 27Crags. Like most climbers I seem to be a cheep bastard, and have (so far) no interest in premium topos. Have you considered something like patreon for us cheep suckers that would like to support the service anyways? 14 days ago
Steve Milbourne The hard work you have all put in and the cost to run the site by the team I believe is worth the subscription fees and will certainly be trialling the Fontainebleau topos ahead of my trip next year. I think with more and more people enjoying bouldering and climbing we will see further development and a demand for both high quality topography alongside 'real-time' new/updated route information. I just hope everyone sees the value in paying for one off access or monthly subscription. It won't stop people using or buying guide books I think the two compliment each other well and with the ability to edit should help avoid the problems we've seen such as duplicates, inaccuracies and poor/missing descriptions. I will be continue supporting the site in my area and subscribing when I can/when I need the topos for sure! Keep up the good work! 13 days ago
Magnus Larsson excellent transparent explanation of your case. I will now pay subscription yearly. 12 days ago
Andy Mac I find this interesting, kind of a duality thing. On one hand I completely understand the economics discussed. On the other, I have put extensive work into my local areas, adding hundreds of images, adding and updating topos and descriptions to keep them as accurate as possible. I don't receive a penny (or e) for any of my work or content, and that's fine. I put this effort in because I support 27crags as a free resource.. So where does this lead? I'd hate to see 27crags go under and we all lose out. I'd also hate to see my work be under the premium section and I have to pay to access what I made, when I made it the great content that it is. Of course, I assume being I'm not paid, my areas would remain a freebie. It kind of sounds like these paid topo makers are the ones getting the good deal when as a community we should be able to make this site a high end creation with our volunteer efforts combined. 12 days ago
Elias Douah Hello Ville! First and foremost: thank you for all that you and your team has set up and built so far! This article is very interesting but it leaves me with at least one question before I can actually decide weather to go for .premium. Who are those "topomakers" that you mention in the article? Is it Toni Arbones and Charles Brasco in Siurana or Ernesto Lopes in Montanejos or Andreas Harne in Stockholm or that Austrian guy that put up 9s on a regular basic in his neck of the woods, to name a few? Is it those who brush out holds and break off loose rock for weeks and months to develop the crags (exploring, bush-wacking, drilling, gluing, dogging)? Or is it someone who goes to a particular area to photograph the crags, dial them in on the gps and hack them into the database? I honestly don't know but I'd like to. The 1000 routs that house Magic Woods couldn't have been "topomade" by a single person or even 10 but maybe 50 individuals(?). Are all those people benefiting from the 50% of the income of .premium? Some areas like Siurana have a bolt-box where I usually put my contribution. Is that where the money goes? Unfortunately, 27 can compare to Vampire guidebooks in some ways. And the worst kind on that. I wouldn’t mind paying for services but not under the circumstances that the “topomakers” get 50% - if they are not the ones that really develop the areas! Sorry. I'd hate for 27crags to go away! Cause my climbing wouldn't have been at all the same without it throughout the years. I've been using it for honing in on crags all over the world while planning where to go for climbing trips. I've been using it as a "climbing atlas", much like the ones from Desnivel for example. Perhaps that’s a way to go. Route data such as name and gps-coordinates with less pictures and thus less server requirements and less need for employees. Those who wish to put in more data on the areas THEY developed could be able to do so and also put it behind .premium if it makes your established requirements. My two… but there might be more to consider, that you already have. 11 days ago
Refresh
Log in or sign up in order to add a comment!