Category Closeup: Travel: O Brave New (Electronic) World
Margaret Langstaff -- 1/31/00
In their ongoing quest for expansion, publishers are promoting a hot new destination -- the Internet
The race is on. Travel publishers are rushing to homestead the Web, hoisting their logos at a variety of sites they hope will be good for business. It' s a transformative process, for the medium is slippery and often yields unexpected results. But one thing is clear: the move from a static, print-bound media to a flexible, real time, open environment is changing the nature of travel publishing.
According to Jean Marie Kelly, v-p of online publishing for Rough Guides, the market extension opportunities are mind-boggling. "In 1998, nearly $3 billion worth of travel was purchased online, but far more, $24 billion, was researched online. Almost one-fifth of U.S. households, approximately 19 million, researched travel online last year. This number is projected to rise to 26 million households by 2003. While online travel purchases represented less than 1% of total sales in 1998, they should have reached 2% in 1999 and [are projected to reach] between 6%-10% in 2001."
"There is a lot of concern among publishers," notes David Szanto, online marketing manager for DK, "about giving away product on the Net, but the truth is the information is already available there in some form and fairly accessible with search engines. We' re all uncertain and nervous, but we want to be there first. If you are, you can rule. Consequently," he adds as an aside, "most travel publishers are reluctant to share information."
Brenda McLaughlin, senior v-p for Internet operations at IDG, which now owns as a house brand Arthur Frommer' s title legacy and brand name, says, "Publishing is not about the media but about providing an information solution. Online media provides a broader opportunity for that than the printed page. Internet-enabled information allows you to add functionality. Yet we' re not trying to change our core business -- we are a how-to publisher."
Travel publishers are using the Web in a variety of creative and ambitious ways. The chief activities they are furiously studying -- and, to some degree, implementing -- include the advertising and promotion of books, merchandising and e-commerce sales of books and related merchandise, offering information supplements and upgrades to the book product and leveraging interactive content, which can be licensed to other sites and portals. The business models employed range from the basic book industry pro forma (when the site is limited to advertising, merchandising and publicity) to more of a magazine business model in which content is traded for advertising or licensing revenue.
Publishers Vary Their Approaches
At the conservative end of the spectrum are houses such as St. Martin' s with its Let' s Go Guides. Robert Kempe, marketing manager for the publisher' s travel books, tells PW, "We' re not going to sell the cow. If we give them the book, we' ve failed." Though St. Martin' s will be licensing content, its emphasis is on preserving the value of the information and using the Web to enhance brand awareness through advertising, promotion and publicity. And, like several of the travel publishers PW talked to, Kempe' s got an ace up his sleeve he isn' t ready to divulge just yet: "We' re in the beginnings of an Internet deal that we are very excited about."
Rough Guides appears to have positioned itself at the other extreme. "We got in on the ground floor," says Kelly. "We went straight out in 1994 and published our new guidebooks online. Before any of our competitors, we took the bold step of making available for free their entire content." This step, Kelly adds, was initially greeted by the trade "with despair and derision, but the early vision has given us a lead that the other publishers will find hard to narrow."
Kelly tells PW that the Rough Guide Web site (www.roughguides.com) contains information taken directly from the printed versions on more than 14,000 destinations and that the site currently generates three million page views per month. "The book is still the best and cheapest invention for carrying information around, and for guidebooks this is especially true. That is why at every given opportunity our Web site is designed to merchandise the books, and contrary to those initial accusations, the access to vast amounts of free content has not cannibalized our core business of selling books. Book sales have increased."
Utilizing the fluidity and open-ended opportunities afforded by the Web, Rough Guides' Internet strategy includes everything from taking banner ads for their own Web site (sold by DoubleClick) to advertising themselves on other sites and portals. Says Kelly: "This quarter we' re doing a $250,000 ad campaign on Yahoo! It' s the cornerstone of our marketing campaign this year."
Somewhere in between the stances of St. Martin' s and Rough Guides is Fodor' s, whose approach to the Web is conservative when it comes to giving content away but very aggressive from a marketing standpoint. Fodor' s uses its site (www.fodors.com) to supplement its consumer marketing efforts by offering excerpts and complete catalogue information (including tables of contents), to provide upgrades to its guidebooks and to offer the convenience of a trip-planning center and an online booking engine.
Company president Bonnie Ammer explains: "We feature a recently published guide in the spotlight position on our home page every month and twice-monthly feature hosted forums highlighting specific titles, allowing us to inspire our visitors and help them plan for all of their travel needs. Recent surveys have confirmed that more than 79% of Fodor' s Gold Guide readers are regularly on the Internet. They appreciate the benefits of the site as it complements the wealth of information in our guidebooks. More important, our award-winning Web site has allowed us to introduce our content to a broad range of travelers who may have never considered buying a travel guide. We regularly receive e-mails from fodors.com users who say that the quality of our site has inspired them to go to the bookstore and buy a Fodor' s guide.
"The Planning Center at www.fodors.com/planning brings together the best Web sites for more than 50 of the most popular destinations worldwide," Ammer continues. She adds that the center "also allows us to include specific seasonal or event-specific Web sites to complement total travel planning. And we feature the planning center URLs on the covers of our Gold Guides."
Smaller Houses Can Benefit, Too
The effects of the Web and its many uses are felt throughout the travel publishing world, no matter how specialized the area. Richard M. Woodworth, publisher of Wood Pond Press (which publishes Getaways for Gourmets in the Northeast, coauthored by himself and wife, Nancy Woodworth), says, "The Internet is definitely impacting this category, especially inn guides, as innkeepers tell us that guests like the immediacy and photos of the Web and increasing numbers of their bookings are coming from this source. Lately, major restaurants also are launching Web sites." Wood Pond Press, Woodworth tells PW, has responded "by putting up selected destinations from our books on our Web site at www.getawayguides.com." Visitors to the site will find a featured Getaway Destination of the Month and a featured Inn of the Week and Restaurant of the Week, each of which focuses on new or updated properties.
Exactly when in its corporate history a travel publisher enters the Internet rapids seems to have a lot to do with how it envisions itself providing travel information. A case in point is Avant-Guide, a new guidebook series launched by 34-year-old Frommer' s veteran author and editor Dan Levine. Avant-Guide has eschewed traditional book marketing for a model more closely related to that of fashion and film. "We want to be a cool guidebook for everybody 25-49 years old," remarks the company founder. Avant-Guide is creating strategic alliances with several major Web sites, including an as yet undisclosed leading portal that shares the publisher' s demographics.
"We are going online in a different way," Levine explains. "Our Web presence will be larger than our book presence. The Web is the way travel is going -- it was made for travel. The full text of our books will be online, and we' re creating a synergy with a Web site that works seamlessly with the guidebooks. More will be on the Web than in print." Avant-Guide will employ two different business models, according to Levine, with the print side of the business treated as a separate profit center from the Web side. Scheduled to go online in late spring, www.avant-guide.com will begin with three revenue streams: advertising, sponsorship and e-commerce. "We will serve all your travel needs," Levine says, "and will utilize very advanced technology. Hollywood people are involved. It' s a very high concept site."
The major way Avant-Guide differs from competing travel publishers, in Levine' s view, is that the others "transfer the guidebook concept to the Web. For me it' s a different medium altogether. Interactivity is the key thing, and the ability to see things in 3-D and 360 degrees. Broadband will be here in 18 months," he predicts. "We want to be the first." Levine plans to spend 60% of his budget on marketing and observes that "being front and center on AOL and the search engines" is essential to success. "The product has to be positioned in the right place."
Avant-Guide is currently in the thr s of acquiring venture capital and launching an IPO. The company, Levine tells PW, is "one and a half years out -- and the guides are selling fantastically. In the spring we will have seven titles." As a sidelight, referring to the IPO aspirations of his company, Levine says, "Every Web startup has that as its goal. It' s important to get a big team behind you, and it' s important where your money comes from. SoftBank is a more credible source, say, than your mother or a neighbor. We' ve turned down tens of millions of dollars from the proverbial neighbor."
The Importance of Interactivity
High on the list of the joys and benefits of being online, according to travel publishers, is interactivity with the reader. Online information is searchable and customizable, both extending its value and giving publishers constant and immediate feedback on reader interests and trends.
Travel publishers are full of news about exciting, new "interactive" Web sites. Impact Publications, a career and travel publisher, has recently announced the release of its new travel Web site, www.impactguides.com, which g s live on March 31. "This site," notes marketing and public relations director Kristina Ackley, "will unify travel publishers and bookstores through a dynamic, interactive online experience. This is more than just another Web site designed to sell books -- it' s a completely interactive experience for anyone interested in learning about international destinations. As with the Impact Guides," she continues, "the site focuses on quality shopping in major regions and exotic countries of the world. The site will feature invaluable excerpts from our guides that help people learn how to shop and travel in style. An interactive world shopping map will help travelers 'visit' their favorite cities for shopping advice previously available only in the Impact Guides. The site will link to more than 1,000 travel-related Web sites, to provide a total travel experience."
MapQuest, founded more than 30 years ago as a traditional cartography company, takes the notion of interactivity even further, at least in terms of immediate utility. Sales and marketing coordinator Bruce Kurtz explains: "MapQuest.com features Mapwire -- instant access to a world of maps. While we provide maps to leading publishers of reference books, travel guides and textbooks, and publish National Geographic maps and atlases, our Web site offers consumers turn-by-turn driving directions and customized maps for destinations worldwide. Mapwire provides a 24-hour online map source for all media and educational uses." MapQuest straddles both the old and the new media, exploiting the unique advantages of each and operating its digital mapping company and Web site as separate profit centers with distinct revenue streams.
In similar fashion, Mile Oak Publishing utilizes the interactive virtues latent in its annually updated print edition of Along Interstate-75. Although Mile Oak has had a Web site for a year now, it has been primarily used to introduce and sell the book, which is directed at the more than nine million travelers who use I-75 each year. Recently the site was redesigned to place much more emphasis on "support" information for those who purchase the current edition. Upon arriving at Mile Oak' s home page (www.i75online.com), current edition owners click on an interstate sign that takes them to a tollbooth. There they are prompted for a password, which causes the tollbooth barrier to rise, and the visitor is presented with a wealth of up-to-date I-75 data, including local weather information, precipitation radar displays, current traffic conditions, road construction information, gas prices at various I-75 exits, readers' recommendations of favorite restaurants and motels, changes to published-in-the-book information and links to other I-75 sites. One unusual item is a short tutorial (with links) on tuning into I-75 city radio stations via the Internet.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com), which uses its site for guidebook updates and upgrades and which also licenses content to search engines and online entities such as Yahoo!, certainly has one of the most frequented "interactive" sections of any travel Web site. Called the Thorn Tree, it is an Internet travel forum -- a message-board community center -- that receives no less than 800,000 unique postings a month. "We never looked at the Internet as a billboard," says U.S. general manager Eric Kettunen, "but as an information exchange." Lonely Planet' s Thorn Tree section is a window on what its audience is up to and a remarkable barometer for industry trends and issues.
Authors on the Web
The Web has allowed (stimulated even) authors to take a more active role in the merchandising and publicity of their travel guides. "The Internet has proven an excellent way for our authors to cross-promote themselves and their titles," notes Lisa Bach, managing editor of Travelers' Tales. Marybeth Bond, editor of A Woman' s Passion for Travel, A Woman' s World, Gutsy Women and Gutsy Mamas, is a travel expert for ivillage.com, where she regularly promotes her Travelers' Tales titles in her column. She also has her own Web site at www.marybethbond.com.
Bach adds, "Several Travelers' Tales authors have created special Web sites for their titles that have proven effective. A San Francisco Chronicle profile of Mikkel Aaland, author of The Sword of Heaven: A Five-Continent Odyssey to Save the World, mentioned his Web site address and there was an immediate increase in site traffic and ordering."
|Guides on the Go|
Travel books travel, too, and quite a number have gone to Avalon.
Put another way, readers looking in this issue's listings for news about Moon Travel Handbooks or Foghorn Press titles will now find those -- and many others -- combined under the recently established corporate name of Avalon Travel Publishing.
"Avalon Publishing Group [a division of Publishers Group Inc., which also includes Publishers Group West] was founded for the purpose of bringing together independent publishers, and last year it was decided to have an East Coast trade group and a West Coast travel book arm of the company," says Bill Newlin, publisher of the latter, which in the summer was christened Avalon Travel Publishing. "To be competitive," he continues, "we needed to achieve a certain critical mass in our operations and to broaden our publishing scope. There was a real need to consolidate, to combine a number of our publishing functions."
Avalon Travel Publishing now consists of Moon, Foghorn Outdoors, Road Trip USA, City * Smart Guides, Travel * Smart Guides and Rick Steves Guides (the last three were imprints of John Muir Publications, which Avalon officially acquired the first of this month).
"The whole point of having individual travel imprints is to maintain the identity of each one," Newlin, who was formerly publisher of the Moon handbooks, tells PW. "To help do that, many people within the company work only on one specific series. However, it made sense to bring the imprints together: although the companies take different approaches to travel books, there has also been a lot of commonality in things like contracts and cartography. Because they are all very compatible, we're able to mix and match the positive elements of each. We can share maps, for example, although we're not going to save that much money in producing each book. Our gains will instead be in consolidating financial operations, accounts payable, back-office functions."
While each imprint will strive to keep and improve its own niche and build its own audience of loyal followers, all books will have Avalon Travel on the spine, says Newlin, "as we continue to identify what series we'll be breaking out and give serious definition to."
Foghorn Outdoors, for example, is the new name of what was formerly Foghorn Press. "Foghorn published to the outdoor recreation market," Newlin explains, "so it made sense to rename it Foghorn Outdoors. Adventures in Nature [formerly a John Muir series] will probably become part of Foghorn. Other changes will include new covers. Colorado Camping has a cover that looks different from any Foghorn cover that came before."
The publisher reveals that John Muir will no longer serve as an imprint of travel books, but its perennial bestseller, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, and its children's books will remain under the Muir name. Muir's popular Rick Steves books have been broken out as a separate imprint. "Rick was very much part of this deal," Newlin tells PW. "My first objective was to find out how his operation works, but Rick has retained his personal involvement."
Avalon Travel Publishing currently has some 300 titles in print, and Newlin expects to publish 60 new titles this year within the various imprints.
Asked what the response within and without the new company has been, he remarks, "It's been great because we've all known each other, although obviously there have been some mixed emotions when teams that have worked together have been disbanded and reconstituted."
Still, he suggests, Avalon is now one big -- no, make that bigger -- happy family. One constant, of course, is that all imprints will continue to be distributed by Publishers Group West.
Through a Gimlet Eye: The Retailers' Take
The Web and its dizzying possibilities have created a kind of conflation of roles in the book industry. Once-sacred turf (to author, publisher, wholesaler or retailer) is slipping and sliding daily under everyone' s feet. The days when it used to be perfectly clear who did what in the publishing process are gone forever. Indeed, respect for conventional boundaries among sectors of the business is becoming a vestigial trait in the industry. Anybody can, conceivably, do anything -- or, as the case may be, everything -- in the publishing process. The route from author to reader has never been more potentially direct and unmediated -- just a click away.
Both publishers and retailers these days are growing their businesses by providing added value in the form of marketing expertise and bookstore distribution. This is a powerful lever, to be sure, but one that can often cause publisher and retailer to infringe on each other' s space.Travel publishers, by and large, are at pains to preserve respect for the retailers' role. Without exception, the travel publishers PW contacted stressed that potential online customers are referred to bookstores to make purchases for print product, even while admitting to taking a few orders directly online from their own sites.
Many competitive retailers, for their part, are morphing into book "salons" where customers interact with other readers with similar interests and frequently speak directly with favorite authors, whether online or in-store. They add value because they are independent of any one publisher' s list and can select authors and titles to feature at will. The best have a distinctive voice and atmosphere that their clientele come to know, enjoy and trust.
Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., is perhaps the prototype of the new breed that has claimed its own unmistakable turf, creating a customer experience -- particularly in terms of "interactivity" -- that publishers would find impossible to duplicate. Co-owner Elaine Petrocelli says the store was well poised at the dawn of the Internet Age to move rather effortlessly online because of its robust preexisting catalogue mail-order business. "Our mail-order division had been established for 16 years," she tells PW, "with its 40,000-name mailing list, and of course we already had a shipping department.
Getting set up on the Web wasn' t such a big deal." She adds that the crowded schedule of in-store author events, conferences, classes and soirees (600 plus per year) are publicized very effectively online. Having "veteran" booksellers available online to do real, physical legwork in locating titles also gives Book Passage an edge on the giants of Internet bookselling, such as Amazon and B&N.com. Yet, in many ways, Petrocelli points out, the store' s Web presence serves to drive even more customers into the physical building for the "live, up-close and personal" experience of seeing and hearing featured authors and meeting with simpatico readers. Famous for its annual Travel Writers Conference, now in its ninth year, which is taught by the biggest names in travel writing and travel publishing, the store promotes the conference on its Web site and encourages interested parties to sign up for the conference (to be held Aug. 17 -- 20 this year) online. Of the resources and commitment necessary to maintain such a lively Web presence, Petrocelli says, "The site has to change almost daily or people won' t come back. It definitely requires a committed backroom and technical support."
Powell' s Travel, the well-known Portland, Ore., bookstore, is included in the seven-store site www.powells.com, which is run by online manager Thant Gopalapur. "We have one site for our seven stores and warehouse, and our Internet sales now account for about 20% of our total sales," he notes. "We have hundreds of sections in the Travel category, and with our Ã¢‚¬Ë content partners' concept we want to be the authoritative source for travel information." Powell' s content partners are other information-providing entities, such as magazines, which supply expert commentary in the various fields of travel in return for links back to their own Web sites. This month, for example, a section called "Other Voices" in the travel area of powells.com features an article excerpted from Escape magazine on travel in Malaysia. "We don' t take ads; [we offer] expert content," Gopalapur says, "which is updated once every week or two." Powell' s is thus pinning its strategy on making the most timely and interesting travel information available online to fuel the sales of its books.
While travel publishers are scrambling to transform themselves into "information providers" in an online universe, not one PW spoke with was willing to prophesy, on the record, where all of this is headed. "Ten years ago, our business was producing travel guidebooks," Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler said in the December 1999 issue of Yahoo! Internet Life. "Now we' re very conscious of the fact that our business is providing travel information and not all of it is in the form of guidebooks anymore. In ten years' time, who knows? The guidebook side of it may be totally gone. We' re still going to be sending people off to research things. Having that information is still going to be enormously important to us. But how we actually provide it could be something entirely different. At the moment, the Web side of it is one way, but even that may change."
The Time Warner-AOL merger earlier this month (News, Jan. 17) was a kind of litmus test for travel publishers (and to be sure, all publishers). Reactions depended on where a publisher was in its online development and how it viewed the future. "Content will be king," says IDG' s McLaughlin, speaking for many. "AOL got content from Time Warner. We are content information providers. How you get it out to the public [will be] the key in the next five to 10 years." With just a little irony, McLaughlin points to the fact that the top-selling Rough Guide title is The Internet: The Rough Guide, which has sold more than a million copies.
"The Time Warner-AOL merger is the beginning of the end," observes Szanto at DK. "It was a defining moment in media history. Now everybody owns a little bit of everybody else. Everyone can both compete and support one another. Entirely new relationships are being forged." Szanto admits to being both fascinated and frustrated by the Internet. "You can make up your own rules," he says, "come up with your own idea and own it. But the Internet was founded on free information, and trying to impose an e-commerce model on it creates some surprising results."
"The Time Warner-AOL merger makes total sense," McLaughlin adds. "AOL isn' t just going to be a portal but a destination. They know the way to differentiate themselves is through content. I can' t imagine who their competitors will be."
Out there somewhere on the horizon is the advance of broadband cable into the Internet mix, an event that will allow rich TV and movielike graphics and information to enhance this already protean vehicle. "Broadband is the next big thing," McLaughlin says, "and it will be here within five years at the outside. Cable access to the Web is very important. All the infrastructure companies want to have the DSL cable (allowing high-speed Net access) to the house. This will be huge when it comes."
Will content providers, portals, destinations -- or something else, maybe unimaginable at this time -- lead the way? Will we still be using this lingo to talk about the exchange of information? If you feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, you' re beginning to get the picture of today' s travel publishing and bookselling terrain.
Back To Industry
Men have traditionally made the most noise with their travel, their adventures and their discoveries, while women's journeys and accomplishments have more commonly gone underrepresented in contemporary literature. That state of affairs, however, seems to be undergoing a sea change.
"Women's travel is our bestselling category," states Lisa Bach, managing editor at Travelers' Tales. "We published A Woman's World: True Stories of Life on the Road in 1995, and we've sold 60,000 copies. We're into a second printing of A Woman's Passion for Travel, which we just published last October." Bach points out that there has been a long history of women adventurers but only recently have they become popular as role models. "At first women weren't allowed to travel alone. Then they traveled where their husbands went. Later there were cruises and bus tours. Now women are doing a lot more solo traveling." Upcoming from Travelers' Tales are books on women's travel and spirituality, women's adventures and women's travel and food.
In her promotional copy on behalf of Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest (Simon & Schuster, Mar.) by female nature writer Sy Montgomery, Elizabeth Hayes, assistant director of publicity for S&S's Consumer Group, notes, "For all the women who are tired of just reading adventure books for men, here is a beautifully written and scientifically savvy adventure story."
Kate Medina, Random House executive editor, says, "I think there has always been an interest for women in stepping out of daily life and going somewhere, not only to have an outer journey but also to undertake an inner journey where you can find out about yourself. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's A Gift from the Sea is that sort of book." Alice Steinbach continues on such a path in Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman, a May book from RH about Steinbach's solitary travels in Europe, about the people she met along the way and what she discovered about herself. "Alice is writing out of that same tradition," continues Medina. "Who am I if I step out of the usual arenas that define me? Is there any such thing as an independent woman? I think that's a big appeal to the armchair traveler as well as to the women who want to do as Steinbach did." Medina adds that another aspect of the book's appeal is the inclusion of postcards that Steinbach wrote home to herself, capturing particular moments and emotions she encountered.
"We've heard a lot of male voices in the adventure genre," remarks Mark Russell, publisher of Appalachian Mountain Club books. "Women bring a fresh voice to it, and it's the real thing. It's not just the fact that women are doing it. It's the fact that women are doing it well and doing it comfortably." The adventures themselves may not all be comfortable, however, as is evident in A Journey North, Adrienne Hall's description of her hike along the entire Appalachian Trail (AMC, Apr.). "What sets this apart is her voice and her perspective," Russell explains. "She brings out the sense of adventure, but not in a heavy-handed way. She lets the events speak for themselves." Such events include everything from floods and blizzards to incessant mosquit s. "The hike turned out to be a life-changing experience," adds Russell, "and you can feel that she discovered herself during it."
Proving that women's travel has indeed been a long and noble undertaking, in May Oxford University Press publishes Jane Robinson's account of more than 100 women pioneers and their adventures spanning four centuries in Parrot Pie for Breakfast: An Anthology of Women Pioneers.