Mapping the Internet
Robert Dahlin -- 1/29/01
In their search for greater marketing opportunities, publishers are becoming increasingly Web-wise
Today it's e-volution. With so much happening in less than a decade, it is small wonder that travel publishers' development of promotion and sales on Web sites and other Internet resources continues in a state of flux. Of the many editors, sales directors and Internet liaisons we spoke with recently, nearly all reported that their exploitation of cyberspace is currently being reconfigured, replenished, renegotiated or just rethought.
"One is never happy with one's Web site," Bill Newlin, publisher of Avalon Travel Publishing, says wryly. "The evolving sites we administer ourselves are basically extensions of our catalogue department. When we post information about a book, we cost it out the same way we would when putting together a press kit." The growing URLs to which he refers include one company umbrella of books at www.travelmatters.com, plus individual sites for Avalon's various imprints, which include www.moon.com, www.foghorn.com, www.roadtripusa.com and www.practicalnomad.com.
"Our redesign is a function of our old site, which was several years old," says Emily Webb, publicity and marketing manager at Countryman Press, who expects the newly refurbished site, www.countrymanpress.com, to be up by the end of February. The house will also have series-specific URLs, www.explorersguides.com and www.backcountryguides.com. "One of the things we'll be adding in the next couple of months, too," says Webb, "is a press area with releases and other information for reviewers and outdoor writers."
At Fodor's, publisher Kris Kliemann announces that the imminent Bookseller Resource Center on www.fodors.com will offer a complete catalogue of titles and downloadable book covers as well as newsletters, promotional materials, inventory checklists and press information. "We'll also add to our in-person staff training," she tells PW. "People on the bookstore floor need to be able to distinguish between travel book lines, to know their salient points. We'll supply a lot of merchandising ideas as well, such as suggesting that booksellers include travel books to Ireland in their St. Patrick's Day displays." Like those of its competitors, the Fodor's site also has a full complement of booking links and travel information for consumers, including bargain rates presently obtainable from airlines. Only about 20% of the imprint's book content is accessible.
Famously, Rough Guides elected to place its entire 900-page Rough Guide to the USA online when it joined the Internet generation in 1994, but the publisher's complete stable of books is not yet fully online. "There are time and resource constraints," explains Jennifer Gold, director of new media. "Now there is about a third of our content online, although our strategy calls for us to place all our books there. We convert everything into the flexible XML language, and we syndicate that to our Web site and to our licensing partners." Even with a considerable proportion of the Rough Guides available without charge at www.roughguides.com, Gold reports that the increased brand awareness in the U.S. has resulted in book sales exhibiting a steady increase.
"We had one of the first travel Web sites ever," says James O'Reilly, Travelers' Tales publisher. "That was in 1993. Its primary use is as something of a storefront, an information kiosk, so to speak." As one example of spreading information at www.travelerstales.com, users can
Carol Bosco Baumann, marketing and sales director at Berkshire House Publishers, reveals that Wineries of the Eastern States by Marguerite Thomas is in the process of being updated, the first revision since the third edition was published in 1999. Completion is expected in April, when it will be available only online at www.berkshirehouse.com and for free. "We decided to do it this way because it gives us opportunities for interesting linkage to other sites, such as winery Web sites," she says. "Our entire catalogue is online, but we want to make the site more useful and part of that effort is putting content online. We'll also be adding links to geographical and recreational sites."
Willow Creek is similarly adding links at its site to lodges described in such books as the upcoming North America's Greatest Whitetail Hunting Lodges & Outfitters. "Our Web site is undergoing a major overhaul," says managing editor Andrea Donner. "We've got eight guides now, and we thought it would be very beneficial to add links since most of the places are quite upscale. They offer a trip-of-a-lifetime sort of thing, and most of the lodges have their own sites." Willow Creek will also post condensed versions of the guides at www.willowcreekpress.com.
The Net by Any Other NameGeographical promotions figure in Berlitz's plans, too. "The publishing part of Berlitz is part of a much larger language services group, which has a built a very strong brand awareness," notes Ellen Beal, editorial director, worldwide publishing. "When people visit our site [www.berlitz.com], they're self-selected. They're interested in language." Tellingly, the site content can be read in 14 different languages. "Travel books can be searched by country," says Beal. "We provide samples and excerpts, and we also have tie-in specials on various parts of the world where we bundle together phrase books, travel books and other products."
With its French origins, the Web site of Michelin Travel Publications, www.michelin-travel.com, is presented in six languages. "The site is expanding every day," says Eileen Osteen, marketing communications manager. "People have been able to plan itineraries there since 1997, and what started as a paid-for site has been free since last July. When we published the France Red Guide on our hundredth anniversary, February 28, 2000, we dropped the charges because we wanted people to take a good look at the site. It did so well that we stopped charging altogether." Now users can plan itineraries without cost, including up to five stopovers and investigating hotel and restaurants along the way by checking information drawn directly from Michelin guides. "We highlight a certain attraction every month," says Osteen, "such as Visit Hanover, Germany."
Another site that surveys the world in its own particular way is www.nationalgeographic.com. "What makes us unique is that we are this large multimedia company with all sorts of resources," says Elizabeth Newhouse, director of National Geographic Travel Books. "We can bring together all of the Society's resources and present them in one online spot for travel information and planning. We have a dedicated travel site that continues to grow. We now have 40 destinations in the U.S. and Canada where you can find large chunks of our guidebooks. We also have a couple of actual expedition sites where you can find guided tours to over 90 places around the world. There's a dedicated book site as well, www.nationalgeographic.com/books, where
"Vintage Books is ramping up its online promotion efforts by pitching excerpts, chats and original content from the authors of the Vintage Departures series titles to travel sites," says Russsell Perreault, publicity director at Vintage, where the URL is www.randomhouse.com/vintage. "We plan to develop a Departures site soon on our home site, but there's no specific date set," reports Jessica Carter, director of new media and online marketing at the Knopf Group, which includes Vintage. "We'll probably break the Vintage travel books down by region. We'll offer excerpts and q&a's with authors. I'm also working on utilizing our Knopf Guides [at www.randomhouse.com/knopf], but we haven't finalized those details so far. Photo essays with captions lend themselves well to a travel area, or perhaps even with audio captions, which we're able to do now. We want to give readers access to authors in ways never before possible."
"I intended right from the beginning to design my Web site so that navigating through it would be akin to an armchair travel adventure in and of itself," says Michael Brein of Michael Brein's Travel Guides and www.michaelbrein.com. Visitors to the site can read accounts of his adventures, such as a dangerous trip on a remote Venezuelan river. Photos of African wildlife lurk there, as d s a link to a waterhole.
Being Far-SitedWhile publishers' individual Web sites are some of the most obvious uses to which the Internet is being put, the broad array of sites owned by entities outside the publishing industry offer virtually unlimited opportunities for book promotion. Such essential online entities as Yahoo!, Lycos and Excite have established relationships with travel publishers who license content from their books that can be searched on those sites. Giveaways provide other options. Fodor's arranged a promotion with a college-oriented enterprise, sixdegrees.com, giving away an upCLOSE guide of choice to those who registered with that dot-com. A total of about 1,000 books spread the word about the series.
The Best of Hawaii is the latest guidebook from Gayot, whose dining reviews are now available through AOL's Digital City. "We cover 60 markets in the United States in our restaurant database," reports publisher Alain Gayot. "We have more content online than we do in print, and we now have 25 books in the Best Of series. Of course, we can update restaurant information much more quickly online." A link at www.gayot.com enables users to make restaurant reservations with eateries that have signed up with OpenTable (www.opentable.com).
"We have very little content on our site," says Lonely Planet general manager Eric Kettunen. "Instead of putting up hotels and restaurants, we offer core destination content, destination profiles and country reports that are all reviewed every three months." At www.lonelyplanet.com, however, there are hundreds of opportunities for interactive responses (see sidebar, p. 42). "We get over two million unique visitors a month," he reports. "In November we got over 100 million hits." As an extra attraction, Lonely Planet offers eKno, a service combining Internet and telecommunications technology, allowing users to save money when making calls from access numbers in 56 countries. Joining eKno costs nothing and also includes voice mail and faxing. Lonely Planet numbers 150 licensees among its outside partnerships that utilize book content.
Particularly germane are the many specialized travel sites on the Internet where individuals can explore licensed material and then book vacation packages, airplane seats, hotel rooms and more.
"GORP.com [Great Outdoor Recreation Pages] has signed an agreement with AOL," says Countryman Press's Emily Webb. "They're providing outdoor adventure content to AOL, which is exciting for us because GORP runs excerpts from our books on their site, which in turn link to our Web site." Authors from virtually all publishers are also encouraged to form individual relationships with travel sites, just as Karen Berger has done with GORP. With her husband, Daniel R. Smith, Berger wrote last fall's release from Countryman, The Pacific Coast Trail: A Hiker's Companion, which allows for obvious cross-promotions.
Avalon is connected to GORP, too, but its biggest association is with Away.com, which offers information from more than 90 Moon Handbooks. Even these arrangements are kinetic. "As the models for the travel markets change, so do ours," says Bill Newlin. "Last year there was a big drop in ad revenue at the dot-coms. We're right now in the middle of recasting our whole Away.com deal. We're not involved in aspects of travel agent activity, but we can use our partners' eyeball traffic to make people more aware of our brand." And, of course, Avalon has a direct publishing association with Rick Steves, of the Rick Steves' Europe series and proprietor of www.ricksteves.com, wherein he posts information about his books, his tour company and much more.
Fodor's has created an association with Expedia.com. Hungry Minds (formerly IDG) partners its Frommer's Guides with Travelocity.com. "We syndicate content to the L.A. Times, to Hertz and other companies," says Brenda McLaughlin, executive v-p, chief Internet officer at Hungry Minds, "but Travelocity takes the largest subset from the Frommer's database. We also do collaborative marketing with Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, which now belongs to Newsweek." The bulk of Frommer's travel book content is available in one way or another on the Internet, although the experience is not like reading a guidebook online. Rather, a user, whether at www.frommers.com or elsewhere, can pore through the database, for example, by searching through a destination. "In the Paris section, you can get information on hotels and restaurants, but also walking tours and other specifics," says McLaughlin, "and those will be supplemented by articles, a weekly newsletter and information about great deals this week." Interested consumers can also subscribe to the free newsletter.
At St. Martin's Press, home of the Let's Go series, Lisa Senz, associate publisher of SMP's Reference Group, reports, "We've formed a partnership with studentuniverse.com, which sells airline tickets to students. They're helping us develop technology to make the content of our books more useful and searchable. The Let's Go Web site [www.letsgo.com] will be upgraded accordingly."
"At www.aaa.com, which is one site, users can be directed to the sites of our 84 different regional clubs by typing in a ZIP code," says Josette Constantino, manager of publishing communications and marketing at AAA. "About three months ago, we established a retail center, e-store: Books & More!, where we sell over 100 titles. It's full-color, point and click, with exclusive online pricing for members and nonmembers."
When it comes to actually selling books at Web sites, many houses say that they offer such services to consumers, but that the public is primarily referred to online retailers or to brick-and-mortar booksellers. Fodor's, which d s not sell books online, has a bookstore locator pointing to Random House's database of booksellers. Countryman Press links to BookSense.com, to online booksellers and to its parent, W.W. Norton, for individual sales.
Enterprising publishers find other ways to sell books, too. When Milestone Press began promoting its upcoming title, Motorcycle Adventures in the Southern Appalachians, president Mary Ellen Hammond got going quickly. "I mailed an early press release last summer to a Web site catering solely to motorcyclists that I had only heard about by word of mouth," she says. "I got an immediate response asking if it would be possible for them to sell the books online. We said yes, and we were receiving orders by the fall. This month I'm sending the release to all sorts of sites dealing with motorcycles, cycling events and motorcycle dealers." Hammond's own Web site is www.milestonepress.com.
Catering to special interests will take on greater immediacy, say publishers, when technology is perfected, allowing readers to customize their own guidebooks, to pick and choose from a travel publisher's content to create a book with only that information pertinent to a particular individual's specific plans. A version of this process is in play at Fodor's and elsewhere, where users can search for specific information on a given city or area and thus create pages of data to be downloaded as a sort of loose-leaf miniguide.
Malcolm Campbell, whose initial offering from Walkabout Press will be Play Hard, Rest Easy New England, says, "Individual travelers will soon be able to purchase various voices to a single destination. I believe that publishers unwilling to sell pieces of their books will lose a lot of sales. I make my information available in XML format, and I'll be able to sell it as you would a piece of software that you download from the Internet. You'll also be able to sell all kinds of cross-promotional stuff with that download. I believe that when e-books are more of a reality, people will carry handheld devices with the specific travel information they need. They'll even be able to check their reservations." Campbell says that www.walkaboutpress.org will be up and running shortly after the book is published in April. "I'll be providing links to innkeepers and restaurateurs," he says.
"One day people will fill out a query page," says Kettunen of Lonely Planet. "We'll ask, What country are they going to? What is their budget style? What are they interested in? The arts? Outdoor activities? Then we'll be able to suggest Lonely Planet content that they might want to buy. Maybe there will be 3,000 pages of information. Then the customer will have editing tools to knock that number down to 700 pages of truly customized information that can be produced as a print-on-demand book."
"We're all experimenting with a lot of different things," says Hungry Mind's Brenda McLaughlin. "Now is a truly exciting time to be working in this industry."
Volume 247 Issue 5 01/29/2001