Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tough times for travel guidebooks?

Simon Quicke, author of the Inside Books Blog, emailed recently to draw our attention to book publishing giant Penguin and its concerns over the future of the innocent travel guidebook.

It appears that at a recent sales conference in Marbella, Penguin asked execs to consider the fate of the travel guidebook in the face of competition from the “this new thing called the interweb”, chortles Jeremy Ettinghausen on the Penguin corporate blog.

He may indeed laugh. But the threat to the traditional model is very real, and Penguin, which dsitributes the Rough Guides collection, is right to take hard look at how it approaches the travel sector in the years to come.

They are not alone either. Lonely Planet, that bastion of the backpacker guidebook, has invested heavily in its online presence, and the more upmarket Dorling Kindersley has also recently relaunched its website with podcasts, downloadable travel guides and maps.

[The DK site looks remarkably like the new travel channels belonging to the Guardian and TimesOnline - our recent "analysis"]

It is an incredibly interesting challenge for these once powerhouses of travel publishing.

  • How do they reach consumers in an electronic way, without losing their edge as experts in print publishing?
  • What can they do about inexorable rise of the travel portals – such as newspaper websites – that can effectively do exactly the same?
Kevin May, editor, Travolution


Darren Cronian said...

Kev, I remember a time when, wherever I travelled I used to buy a destination guide book. Nowadays, I use the net, and especially blogs, lonelyplanet, wiki's etc.

Why would I pay for something I can get on the net for free?

Stuart McDonald said...

It's an interesting challenge; online can be as niche and specialised as it wants as it isn't constrained by the economics of book publishing.

I can't see a near future without guidebooks -- after all they don't need an internet connection nor electricity to be used, and make for handy doorstops, notepads and thrown objects to scare off rats (none of which I'd use my laptop for) -- but I do see a very bright future for quality and accurate websites which are used to accompany and improve upon a guidebook purchase.

Need not be one or the other -- some things can work together well.

Steven said...

As someone who faces this dilemma everyday (I manage travel.latimes.com), I can say traditional media (a newspaper in my case) can happily co-exist with an online companion. There's something to be said about sitting down with a cup of coffee and reading the sunday travel section and taking a well-worn, bookmarked guidebook with you on your trip.

Travel planning is an organic process and experience. I think there's a time and place for both media.