The U.S. travel book market fell 16% in 2008, to $279 million, according to the newest edition of Travel Publishing Year Book, published by Stephen Mesquita, the U.K.—based travel publishing analyst. Sales are based on figures from Nielsen BookScan and cover about 70% of the book market. This is the second time Mesquita has included data from the U.S. in his report, which also evaluates sales from the U.K., Australia, South Africa, Ireland and China. “Everything [in the U.S.] was hit pretty bad in the year,” Mesquita said, noting that the “best” performing segment was U.S. activity guides, where sales fell only 1.5%. Sales of world travel guides, the largest travel segment, fell by 16%, and sales of maps and atlases were “horrible,” down almost 23%.

In general, books that covered places close to home or dealt with inexpensive trips did best, not just in the U.S. but in all the other countries measured by Mesquita. American travelers increased their spending on guides about the U.S. and, specifically, Washington, D.C., which recorded gains of 12% and 11%, respectively, with guides to the nation's capital generating the most spending, at $2.5 million. Guides to Europe, particularly to Italy, fell markedly last year; with sales of guides to various regions in Italy down an average of 30%. Mesquita believes sales of maps and atlases will continue to fall, before eventually plateauing “at some low level.”

Even sales of books in the “people and places” segment fell last year, giving back almost all of the 35% increase posted in 2007. Mesquita attributed that to a lack of new books; the popularity of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die helped to drive sales in that segment in 2007.

Sales of travel books during the course of the year mirrored the trend of books in general; sales were sluggish in the first nine months of the year, and they collapsed in the final quarter. Among publishers, the larger houses generally did better than their smaller competitors and were able to increase market share even as sales fell. Mesquita attributed that to the decision by retailers to reduce the range of titles they were carrying, preferring to stick with the best-known brands from the major houses.

For more information on the travel publishing market, or to order the report, contact Mesquita at