It used to
be that savvy travellers wouldn’t dare hit the road without a trusty, well-worn
guidebook in hand. But today most travellers eschew the hefty tomes for online
trip planners and smartphone apps.
marketplace has noticed. Last Thursday word came that Google, which purchased
Frommer’s Travel in August 2012, will cease publication and production of the
iconic Frommer’s guidebooks immediately. Though Google made no formal
announcement and declined to comment, travel
news site Skift reported that Frommer’s authors were notified of the
change. Considered a bible by generations of US travellers, Frommer’s had
nevertheless experienced a significant drop in sales.
BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC and owner of BBC Travel, sold travel guide
business Lonely Planet to US company NC2 Media for $78 million – far less
than the $200 million it originally paid. BBC acknowledged
that the Lonely Planet purchase, made in 2007, had not proved to be a good
together, the news comes as a blow for guidebook publishing.
And it appears to be part of a larger
downward trend in the industry. While sales of guidebooks soared in the
1980s and ’90s, they began dropping off in the 2000s, according to a
May 2012 report in the Guardian by travel publishing expert Stephen
Mesquita. By the mid-2000s, guidebook sales were plummeting. Between 2005 and
2012, sales fell roughly 40% in the UK and US, according to Mesquita.
A number of
factors are behind the decline. The recession squashed leisure travel at the
same time as budget-conscious travellers began going online to research, plan and
book trips. Major websites such as Expedia, Orbitz and TripAdvisor popularised digital
reviews and made online booking cheaper, more up-to-date and more convenient
than guidebooks. To top it off, the shrinking
bookshop landscape made it more difficult to browse and buy guidebooks, driving
more travellers online.
assured, the guidebook won’t go the way of the dodo. For starters, Brad Kelley,
CEO of NC2 Media, has promised to continue publishing Lonely Planet travel
guides. Though it’s considerably smaller, there is still a market for print
guides, just as the market for print books, magazines and newspapers endures.
travellers will encounter far fewer print guidebooks in the future. What
they’ll see instead are apps like TripIt,
online booking tools like Expedia, many competing
travel start-ups and
versions of popular guides.