When Maya Mavjee was appointed president and publisher of Random House's Crown Publishing Group in December 2009, Crown's nontrade units, including Random House Audio Publishing and Fodor's Travel Group, were separated from the group. They found new homes under Nina von Moltke, v-p, digital publishing development, and being part of that newly created digital group meant one thing for Fodor's: "Our growth was going to come from digital opportunities, whether from our Web site, e-books, or apps," said publisher Tim Jarrell, who has led Fodor's since 2004.
A year into Fodor's new life in the digital group, Jarrell said Random has stepped up its investment in Fodor's digital endeavors, and as the brand celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, Jarrell reports that Fodors.com, which was launched in the late 1990s, now gets two million unique visitors a month. Fodor's has been monetizing the site through advertising for more than 10 years (an ad rep firm handles sales), and two weeks ago, it refreshed the site's design. "We think the site has a significant opportunity to grow," said Jarrell.
Fodors.com has grown substantially already, and throughout that time, one thing has remained constant: all online content is free. "Our philosophy is, we're going to provide the best content and the best experience to the consumer in the format they are in," Jarrell explained, noting that the company does not worry about "protecting" content that exists in print books by not posting it for free online. However, print remains a significant part of the business; Fodor's sold more than one million copies of its guidebooks in the U.S. last year. This year it will publish 115 new guidebook editions, the same number as it released in 2009, and down only slightly from the 130 titles it published in 2005. The publisher's bestselling guidebook in 2010 was Fodor's Costa Rica, followed by stalwarts such as Fodor's New York City, Fodor's Paris, Fodor's Caribbean, and Fodor's Walt Disney World.
Fodor's started doing e-books last fall, and while it has not done any enhanced e-books yet, it has five apps available, for London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco, priced at $5.99 each. Jarrell said Fodor's will release "a lot more" apps later this year; they will all be city-specific. Fodor's also offers specific chapters of guidebooks via PDFs priced from $1.99 to $3.49, and although Jarrell said the offering is not a huge source of revenue, it is growing. Additional revenue streams include licensing; Fodor's has done deals with Silversea Cruises, USA Today, and Hilton Worldwide, among other companies.
The travel guide market is a crowded, competitive one undergoing lots of change. Fodor's strategy is to provide consumers with digital products that are better organized and easier to navigate than what is currently available. "One of the great things about the physical travel book is you can open it and flip through it, and it's easy to find information. It's not as easy to browse on an e-book reader," Jarrell said. "This is going to be the transitional year where you will see a lot more of these [digital] products [from Fodor's]," he said.