/ NEWS: The Guidebook Debate of 2001 Explained

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Michael Ryan - on 08 Nov 2007
In 2001 the BMC under Roger Payne tried to halt publication of the seminal Rockfax guidebook Peak Gritstone East. Lawyers were involved, BMC money was spent but nothing really came of it. Or did it?

Alan James of Rockfax argues on his blog that if the publication Peak Gritstone East had been halted we might not......

Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/
Offwidth - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:

One of the hidden benefits to me is more focus on getting things that the vast majority of punterdom can climb changed to the right grade and being able to find the climbs more easily.

I guess the other side of the argument won't be made here.. so playing devil's advocate ...of course current prizes and quality guidebooks are wonderful but some of the worries at that time may still come to pass (presumably such as: glossier more expensive guides replacing more affordable alternative models- like, say, stanage topo; a legal challenge on IP is still possible; volunteer guide production suffers and closes through high quality competition and the winning commercial organisation won't deal with less commercial areas or worse still closes soon after for financial reasons leaving local climbers starting from scratch). Then there is the new potential problem of written 'historical' decriptions being accused of misrepresentation and threats of it causing legal action.
In reply to Offwidth:

From my perspective it is interesting how it might have gone so differently - it whoever it was, hadn't sunk my Cicerone project (a small black and white photo-topo guide to Stanage) I would never have turned to Alan (we were competitors back then), PGE wouldn't have been born, and I assume RockFax wouldn't be where it is today.

Chris
Fiend - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:

Not really very much salacious details in that one...

I think the net result for guidebooks was as good one (even though I personally still don't like PGE/W).
Offwidth - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Chris Craggs:

The future is never certain let alone possible lost futures. Some things are certain though: you will never please 100% of the people 100% of the time.
In reply to Offwidth:

> The future is never certain let alone possible lost futures. Some things are certain though: you will never please 100% of the people 100% of the time.


....... and there are some folks you will never please any of the time!


Chris
Chris Tan Ver. L on 08 Nov 2007 - 130.88.74.199 whois?
In reply to Chris Craggs:

Perhaps you could help me on this one. I'm curious to know how much influence the excellent guide books produced by Desnivel in the late 90's have to play in developing the PGE-style.
In reply to Fiend:
> I think the net result for guidebooks was as good one

My point is though that the net result of that debate is irrelevant, we were already on course for better guidebooks anyway and that particular action nearly blew all the good work.

Alan
Fiend - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC:

> My point is though that the net result of that debate is irrelevant, we were already on course for better guidebooks anyway

Were we?? I might be missing a point here but surely you can take credit for the improvement in guidebook formatting??

Abominations like the 2002 Stanage guide (note to self: remember to burn that having recently picked up the new guide) point to the possibility of guidebook quality plodding on at the same level. Or the Gower guide, that's hardly a forward step.

I don't know what other guidebook producers were planning but there seems to have been an obvious increase in quality SINCE you mavericks started putting your colour pictures and shiney formats in, rather than running parallel to that when you were doing it...
In reply to Chris Tan Ver. L:
> (In reply to Chris Craggs)
>
> Perhaps you could help me on this one. I'm curious to know how much influence the excellent guide books produced by Desnivel in the late 90's have to play in developing the PGE-style.


I am not sure which guide you are referring to, so I think the answer would be none - the guide just sort of evolved as myself and Alan threw our various ideas into the melting pot.

Chris
In reply to Fiend:

We are at cross-purposes here.

Of course things changed, and most would say for the better, after the publication of PGE. What I am questioning is the merit of the action in 2001 to prevent it from being published. The net result of that action had no impact on what happened subsequently to British guidebooks.

Grimer had already been taken on, Rockfax would have been happily producing books unhampered and others would have been contributing their ideas to the melting pot, as they have been doing. The debate didn't initiate anything in particular apart from bad feeling and a large legal bill.

Alan
Michael Ryan - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Chris Craggs:
> (In reply to Chris Tan Ver. L)
> [...]
>
>
> I am not sure which guide you are referring to, so I think the answer would be none


Break all the features down Chris. As a guidebook connoisseur and collector you will have been influenced by many guidebooks not just in the UK.
John2 - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC: You haven't mentioned the reprinting of the old BMC Staffordshire guide in an attempt to take sales away from PGW, despite the fact that a new BMC Roaches guide was not far from publication. Another expensive and vindictive action from the BMC.
Michael Ryan - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:

.....and not just climbing guidebooks, but the general media and more awareness of design generally, plus the application of modern desk top publishing, and digital technology.

To call it all your own smells of hubris.
Fiend - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC:

I thought the porpoises might be involved somehow!

The merit of that action - indeed! I think you're right. There would have been little merit to it succeeding, which probably would have slowed down guidebook progress quite a lot - for what gain?? And there seems to be little merit in it being attempted, I'm sure the BMC had their reasons (this is why more salacious detail would be interesting), but the net result as you say has had little benefit. Apart from, perhaps, discouraging others from trying such things??
JoeL 90 - on 08 Nov 2007
What a strange thread. im not going to say 'how is this news' becuse its obviously intresting for some but its not exactly rocktalk, maybe you should create a new forum for not climbing related things. Supertopo guidebooks are clearly far better than any British stuff anyway, so you should really just copy their ideas.
In reply to Fiend:
> Apart from, perhaps, discouraging others from trying such things??

That is a good point!

Salacious detail is tricky on this one since the people involved have obviously showed themselves to be prepared to wave their legal wands. However, I don't know much about the BMC meetings that were convened where most of the actual discussion took place. I only know what was said to me, and that isn't very exciting really.

Alan
In reply to Chris Craggs:
> I am not sure which guide you are referring to, so I think the answer would be none - the guide just sort of evolved as myself and Alan threw our various ideas into the melting pot.

There were plenty of influences not least the massive effort carried out over the years of those who documented the routes in the first place. Then the various layout ideas many of which I adapted from a very good travel guide I found in a book shop, plus Mick's original graphic layout from the 1990 Yorkshire Limestone guide.

It would be very wrong of us to claim anything other than the initiative and crystallisation of a few ideas on this one.

I didn't really intend my blog to spark a self-congratulatory thread, it was more to purge my frustration at how utterly stupid that 2001 debate was, which has been brought clearly into context by our award last week, and the BMC's last year.

Alan

Michael Ryan - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to JoeL 90:
> Supertopo guidebooks are clearly far better than any British stuff anyway, so you should really just copy their ideas.

Supertopo and Rockfax USA shared an office.

Many of the the ideas in modern guidebooks such as the topo and route information and crag information tables were being used by the French in the 1980's.

The strength of PGE was a bringing together of ideas from various places, but not least two things: colour and the subject matter, and importantly the tireless energy and work ethic of Alan James and Chris Craggs.

And at the back end: the Rockfax Route database.

Offwidth - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to JoeL 90:

I find supertopo provide far too much information, way beyond what most UK trad climbers want in what is afterall a form of adventure activity. I'd add in some cases its almost impossible to carry their recommended rack without a year of gym strength training.

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In reply to Alan James - UKC:

All true - but as I remember it we didn't look at any other guides and say - 'we need this feature in' - more the opposite, 'now we have decent digital cameras and full colour printing lets see what we can do'.

Chris
Dave Garnett - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Fiend:
> (In reply to Alan James - UKC)
>
> I'm sure the BMC had their reasons (this is why more salacious detail would be interesting),


I think the real situation is less titillating. I think it boiled down to a misunderstanding of some basic intellectual property issues, like who, if anybody, owns route information.
stonewall - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:
Many of the the ideas in modern guidebooks such as the topo and route information and crag information tables were being used by the French in the 1980's.

..a pity the french seem to have done little since. I bought 5 guidebooks for the drome and vercors last week and its when you go through these that you realise how brilliant books like PGE are.
tobyfk - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Dave Garnett:

> I think the real situation is less titillating. I think it boiled down to a misunderstanding of some basic intellectual property issues, like who, if anybody, owns route information.

My recollection of what perculated through on to the forums at that time was that one or two more lawyer'y-type people, who should have known better, disappeared up their own backsides over this issue, and as Alan says, could have put him out of business. I think it's very restrained of him not to name some names.
In reply to tobyfk:
> I think it's very restrained of him not to name some names.

I think I probably have.

One name I'd like to mention in a positive light is Dave Musgrove who was instrumental in ensuring that common sense prevailed.

Alan
Dave Garnett - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to stonewall:
>..a pity the french seem to have done little since. I bought 5 guidebooks for the drome and vercors last week and its when you go through these that you realise how brilliant books like PGE are.

There's an excellent Presles selected climbs guide now, with sections organised according to various styles of climbing and personalities reflecting the development of the area, and accompanied by topos and descriptions of a couple of 'must do' routes of each era.
stonewall - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Dave Garnett:

i agree that one is quite good, as is the new ardeche guidebook, but neither is in the same league as PGE.
Dave Garnett - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to stonewall:

Different sort of thing really. The Presles guide is a sort of modern pocket combination of Ron James and Hard Rock.

Brilliant for the occasional visitor but less useful for regulars. So a bit like PGE then.
TRip - on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC:

Alan

Rockfax guidebooks have undoubtable revolutionilized the styel of climbing guidebooks; I still find that many of the other club produced guides offer a far better read. Rockfax guides often seem very dull incomparsion to the books produced the by the CC, FRCC, SMC, ect.

Can you not try and make them a bit more human please?

Just a thought,
icnoble on 08 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC: As a relative newcomer to trad climbing I think the rockfax guide books are supberb. I dont see how they can be improved upon. The new BMC guide to Stanage is pretty good as well, but not I feel to the same standard as yours.
In reply to Tom Ripley:
> Rockfax guidebooks have undoubtable revolutionilized the styel of climbing guidebooks; I still find that many of the other club produced guides offer a far better read. Rockfax guides often seem very dull incomparsion to the books produced the by the CC, FRCC, SMC, ect.
>
> Can you not try and make them a bit more human please?

Interesting one. This does crop up from time to time, so it is obviously an issue. However when I look into it, I tend to discover that Rockfax is being judged on reputation rather than fact. Or rather other guidebooks are being rewarded on the deserved reputation of a few old guidebooks, which are really good reads, when they themselves are not particularly special. Just check a few of the guidebooks produced in recent years to see which ones are actually especially 'good reads'. Some have their moments, but then so do most Rockfaxes, but very few are actually significantly better reads than most Rockfaxes. That is the nature of technical documents - you can't always write entertainingly and, if you do, you may well lose the point of what you are trying to say. Actually, Mike Robertson's Deep Water is a better read than virtually any book produced last year.

Another manifestation of reputation being stronger than fact is that many people still claim that Rockfaxes are 'topo guides' simply because the first few guides we produced happened to have virtually no descriptions. But we have been including descriptions for the last 12 years and yet the reputation still won't go away.

Alan
neilh - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:

In situations like this I always consider a joint statement from both parties to be useful along the lines of " we have had differences, we have sorted them out and we have resolved them".

Unless I am missing something you have given your version of this, would it not have been more tactful to have done it jointly?
tmh - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:

Wouldn't a better title for this news item have been 'The Guidebook Debate of 2001 Briefly and Opaquely Mentioned'? I'm not seeing much in the way of explanation, and I think it would be only fair alongside the well-known Rockfax side of the story to present the reasoning behind the BMC's trying to prevent publication of PGE, which was based on some understandable concerns even if time has proved these wrong.
Dave Garnett - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to tmh:

Oh, I don't know. Wouldn't it be better just left alone?
In reply to tmh:
> Wouldn't a better title for this news item have been 'The Guidebook Debate of 2001 Briefly and Opaquely Mentioned'? I'm not seeing much in the way of explanation, and I think it would be only fair alongside the well-known Rockfax side of the story to present the reasoning behind the BMC's trying to prevent publication of PGE, which was based on some understandable concerns even if time has proved these wrong.

Well if anyone wanted to document this reasoning then UKC would be happy to publish it I am sure. It won't happen though simply for the reason that the BMC is a completely different organisation now and there probably isn't anyone there who is qualified to put the BMC side. Those who could do it are now spread far and wide and probably don't care that much.

My only reason for bringing it up is a cathartic expression of the way I have felt about the whole episode since 2001, which has been brought into focus by the Banff Awards but, as Dave says, it is probably best left alone.

Alan
Simon - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC:


Its interesting to re-read some od the old articles in the magazines & the fact that the BMC spent Ten Grand on solicitors fee's.

Why they bothered after all is somewhat of an embarrassment and like people say - best left dead dogs lie...

Si
Offwidth - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Simon:

"the fact that the BMC spent Ten Grand" fact or media speculation? Your right about the dogs though.

In reply to Alan James:

"Those who could do it... probably don't care that much." Really?
Jon Dittman - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com: If it is any consolation, I have managed to use the word "Rockfax" in NW Area Meetings without being thrown out on several occasions now. I guess things must be changing for the better! :-)
Offwidth - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Jon Dittman:

Ah but do you have any video proof of that and do you have to cough when you say it ;-)
Dave Musgrove - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Offwidth:

I think the cost was 8k and it was a very big issue for some people at the time. Some wanted to spend a lot more and if we hadn't called a halt when we did in my opinion it could have damaged both organisations pretty much fatally. Rockfax could quite probably have been put out of business and the reputation of the BMC would have been damaged for ever in the eyes of a huge proportion of the climbing public, all of whom it purports to represent in a general sense, whether members or not.

I'm pretty sure all the whys and wherefors were explored pretty well on these forums around the time and I haven't got the time or inclination to write it all up again now. Maybe one day - if I ever get round to writing my memoirs?

Thanks for the acknowledgment by the way Alan.

Dave
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Paz - on 09 Nov 2007
In reply to Alan James - UKC:

I think you're pretty much spot on. Any of our opinions at the time were mostly about apparently nicking the work of unpaid volunteers and about Craggs appearing to rip off the BMC. These proved unfounded, even the person who told me the latter seemed to have changed his mind eventually.

You've not destroyed the definitive guidebook as we know it, which was basically our main fear, and so any issue I have with your guides (most of which I also have with the definitive ones) is irrelevant as I can always not buy them.

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