January 3, 2008

News & Opinion: Embracing the future of travel guides

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 8:24 PM – Filed under: Publishing Industry

The New York Times must be reading our minds because just yesterday Todd and I were discussing the future of travel books, and today there's a great article about what travel guide publishers are doing to anticipate and incorporate changes in the industry.
A few approaches mentioned in the article:
  • Specialized guides are available online - you can get an entire guide to pubs and inns in the UK, without the other information available in more comprehensive guides. And, you can get a version that connects to the GPS in your rental car.

  • Dorling Kindersley (DK) has made all of the content in its Eyewitness Travel guides available online at

  • Lonely Planet plans to have all of its guides online in two years, but currently offers individual chapters available for download at a few dollars each.

  • Several publishers allow web site visitors to create and print out or order customized guides. Others are getting their stuff into the backs of airplane seats.

Todd and I were discussing the dilemmas of choosing the right book(s) for your travel needs. For instance, you could create a customized guide to New York City with the maps of certain neighborhoods, history on the art in the museum you're visiting that day, and a subway map with certain stops highlighted. But, Todd pointed out, what do you do when it's 4:00, you're in an unfamiliar neighborhood, famished, and you want to eat at a great New York restaurant? Or, as I pointed out, what happens when you're on the Brooklyn Bridge and you want to know how many years it took to build?
Many travel guides boil down the history and cultural information that comes in handy when you're out and come across something new, something you didn't plan for when putting together your guide. Or you only visit sites in the chapters you've printed, and miss out on something cool right around the corner. Some of the spontaneity is lost.
On the other hand, when you're lugging around an iPod, a digital camera, a cell phone, bottled water, and a couple of kids, do you really want to carry a book? And, chances are, you'll need a couple of books, just in case one works well for, say, transportation, and the other works well for selecting restaurants and accommodations. And then there are the books you pore over before the trip and leave at home when you go...
Several publishers are looking at these strategies as a game plan for if (or when) the print publishing industry collapses.
"'We want to be in a position where, if the business suddenly collapses in five years, we have a plan -- unlike the music industry,' said Martin Dunford, publishing director of Rough Guides, which is part of the Penguin division of the media company Pearson, based in London."

But that big IF isn't looming on the horizon at this time:
"So far, the digital media revolution has been much less turbulent for guidebook publishers than for record companies, which are fighting rampant online copying. Sales of travel guides, while flat in some traditionally stalwart markets like Britain, have been growing strongly in developing countries and in the United States -- despite a weak dollar, which has made overseas trips more expensive for Americans.
Travel publishers sold 14.8 million books in the United States last year, up 11 percent from two years ago, according to Nielsen BookScan. Still, guidebook companies may have missed an opportunity on the Internet..."

Check out the article. I know I'll be visiting DK Travel and Lonely Planet's web sites to see what I can do for a little trip I'm planning.