Travel guides: the canaries in the digital coal mine. While no category of print books is immune to the changes wrought by growth in e-books and apps, books on travel—with their need for constant updating—lend themselves especially well to digital media. If print were on its way out, guidebooks would be one of the first categories to go completely digital. Indeed, all of the publishers PW spoke with have at least some digital elements. Are we halfway down the road to a wholly digital future? Or will we always have the sort of split we have now in the category?
At Interlink, says publicity director Moira Megargee, "We've made many of our travel books available as e-books, but our physical books continue to outsell them." Clare Currie, travel publisher of Rough Guides and DK Travel, says the output of both remains a mix, and there's a long way to go before print is obsolete, if it ever will be. "At the moment, our print offering on both lines remains far more comprehensive than our digital output. We're not dumping print with undue haste, because there remains substantial demand for it. In the long term there will be a transition to greater digital dominance. While I don't think this will result in the book going away entirely, it will require a more flexible and more nimble print strategy to ensure we can be equally efficient in fulfilling consumer demand for digital and print formats."
Currie continues, "Incorporating digital content into our publishing strategy has become essential. Travelers are seeking useful content for trip-planning and practical on-the-road resources in increasingly diverse digital formats. DK now offers its visual content as apps, e-books, and print guidebooks so that travelers can use our content any way—and where—they like."
E-books are the digital format of choice at AAA, but Bill Wood, travel publishing managing director, says, "Printed books will continue to have a place in publishing as long as there is a viable distribution system for the consumer to get them. We've done the business analysis, and AAA will still be distributing millions of paper books and maps annually to members 10 years from now." There are issues with print, though, says Wood. "There's a festering distribution defect that will hasten migration to digital. Obtaining printed books is getting more and more difficult as stores close and the remaining ones remove bookshelves for another coffee-shop table or stacks of toys and games."
Frommer's launched its Web site in 1997. Says associate publisher Ensley Eikenburg, "Today's digital revolution is more an evolution for us." Indeed, Frommer's was the first travel publisher to offer apps in the Apple store; today it has more than 100 e-books available. "E-books give travel publishers the freedom to create content for specific groups and the freedom to update long-form content on a more frequent basis," says Eikenburg. "At the same time, a print book is an excellent platform for travel content—it never runs out of batteries, it's intuitive to use, information is easily discoverable, and it makes a great souvenir." .
At National Geographic, too, print books still have their place. Declan Moore, president of National Geographic Publishing, says, "We see ongoing demand for guidebooks. These are tools for travelers who don't want to worry about charging electronic devices, theft, or roaming charges abroad when they need information." Yet, he says, "This promises to be a year when we experiment with digital publishing space, looking for the synergies between Web, e-books, apps, and print." National Geographic offers its first major travel app this spring: 50 Places of a Lifetime builds on the Places of a Lifetime franchise based on the all-time bestselling issue of National Geographic Traveler.
Next month will see the first Let's Go e-guides that can be downloaded in Nook, Kindle, iPad, Kobo, or Sony Reader format. Digital is "another option for travelers," according to publishing director (and Harvard senior) Joseph Molimock. "For travelers who want to mark up their book, tear pages out, or use it as an occasional makeshift pillow, a print book is the right choice," he says. "For others, downloading one or more books to an e-reader allows more space in the backpack—not to mention that it looks cooler and more discreet in a coffee shop." No slouch in the digital department, Let's Go maintains an active Web site with free destination information, blogs, videos, an e-newsletter, and real-time travel deals; readers also connect on the publisher's Facebook page.