Lonely Planet, the travel publisher that in the fall came up with a plan to allow employees to work part-time hours or take short-term leave in order to avoid layoffs, will eliminate 81 positions in the U.S., or approximately 15% of its worldwide workforce.
"[The first] approach was a way of temporarily solving the problem of cutting costs," said LP founder and owner Tony Wheeler. "It wasn't enough." While some of the employees who took the sabbatical are affected by the layoffs, Wheeler said that was not a factor in determining the staff cuts. This is the first major layoff in the company's 29-year history.
The moves come as part of a plan to centralize production operations in LP's Melbourne, Australia, headquarters. As a result, the majority of the staff cuts will occur in the U.S. headquarters in Oakland, Calif. Last Tuesday, 81 employees—73 in production, seven in new media and one in administration—were notified that they will be let go between now and the end of July.
Wheeler said that after months of looking over the entire operation, it was determined that the Oakland facility was just too expensive, especially considering differences in the exchange rate. "The only thing to do was to ship production back to Australia," he told PW. LP's new-media program will go from being a stand-alone department to being integrated with the general publishing division.
Although sales fell dramatically after September 11, Wheeler said the company is basically back to where it was last year at this time. But that is very different from the 20%—25% annual increase the company has experienced in the past few years. "We're looking not just to restore our profitability, but to improve it," he said. Wheeler did have some reassuring words: the company will add 11 editorial positions to increase its North American output, including a venture with the U.S. National Parks.