Since PW last surveyed the travel landscape a year ago, guidebook publishers have continued their quest to stay relevant in the digital age. With a plethora of information now instantly available online, rifling through pages for basic, sometimes outdated, intel may have appeared to be a bygone ritual. But instead of witnessing its demise, 2014 saw the adaptation of the guidebook, which translated to a surprising rise in sales.
Piers Pickard, Lonely Planet’s publishing director, notes that the company experienced a bright year, selling out of key gift titles during the holiday season, outperforming the market with growing sales, and increasing market share by almost two points.
Likewise, guidebook pioneer Arthur Frommer, who, along with daughter and copresident Pauline, rebooted his company as FrommerMedia after a short stint of being owned by Google, says large travel publishers overall performed “extremely well in 2014. Travel is very much on the upswing. We not only have a definite economic recovery, but the dollar, in recent days, has reached its highest level, making international travel so much more feasible.” As testament to this surge in interest, when FrommerMedia relaunched its travel series in October 2013, there were almost 30 titles; by the end of 2014, there were more than 70.
It Takes Two
Travel’s robust digital presence may have initially alarmed publishers, but they are now seeing the benefit of a tag-team approach to print and digital.
Globe Pequot, which Rowman & Littlefield acquired in May 2014, digitizes all of the content in its Insiders’ Guides. This means, says Pieter Van Noordenen, Rowman & Littlefield’s director of digital development, “we can easily syndicate it to third parties,” including City-Data.com and Weather.com. Globe Pequot is also working on a trial project with Slicebooks.com, which lets readers buy chapters from different books. “We think this works especially well in the travel space, since if you are going to, say, Denver, you could pull the relevant chapters from our Food Lover’s Guide, Beer Lover’s Guide, Best Scenic Drives, and Best Day Trips,” Van Noordenen explains. Further, Globe Pequot is exploring partnerships with state tourism boards to provide custom web content based on its books.
Fodor’s publishes all of its destination guide content online, says Amanda D’Acierno, senior vice president and publisher. “We know that travelers consult many resources in various formats when they’re planning a trip, so it’s paramount to us that we provide our editors’ advice in any format a traveler might need it, be that a print guidebook, e-book, mobile app, online at Fodors.com, or even on our social media platforms,” she says, explaining that the different formats complement rather than compete with one another.
Bill Newlin, publisher of Avalon Travel (which publishes the Rick Steves and Moon guides), notes that from January through June 2014, Rick Steves posted a 9% increase in revenue, and Moon grew by 25%, over the same period in 2013—“even more than our successful e-book editions of both series.” To supplement their print siblings, e-books contain features like hyperlinked content listings and pan-and-zoom maps.
Despite—or perhaps because of—digital innovations, publishers remain optimistic that print guides will continue to appeal to travelers.
“The fact that travel information now comes in many forms, including user-generated content, has expanded travelers’ awareness of the value of superior information, and travel guides are benefiting from that awareness,” Newlin says. “In some ways the easy availability of contact and location information means travel guides can spend less space on what’s commonly available and concentrate on our core strength: uncommon advice.”
Frommer believes that print guidebooks stand out from online clutter because of the curated content written by his “trusted writers” from around the world. “The digital phenomenon is beginning to wane because a large number of people are starting to realize that sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are being manipulated by hotels and restaurants. It’s increasingly becoming difficult to know which comments are honest and which are fake,” he says. “We’re seeing online content have less of an impact on our sales now.” FrommerMedia’s line of 256-page EasyGuides, which include a detachable map, are one way of bridging the gap between the ease of online research and the thorough, on-point details illuminated in print, says Frommer. (Books covering Iceland, New Zealand, and Tokyo and Kyoto will arrive in 2015.)
Amy Lyons, Globe Pequot’s editorial director, credits the company’s strong focus on regional coverage as a factor that lends itself to print. “We aren’t trying to help a reader find the best hotel rate––we are uncovering and celebrating different regions in unique ways,” she says, noting the company’s strategy of exploring travel through the lenses of food, history, and art. One example is a new series, beginning in the fall with Connecticut, that is centered around New England town greens. Designed to appeal to exploratory locals and armchair travelers as much as those plotting vacations, Lyons says the goal of Globe Pequot’s books is to give readers “a blended experience of place and interest—something that digital has trouble doing—with personality and point of view.”
With all eyes on South America during last year’s World Cup, Fodor’s took the opportunity to update its Rio de Janeiro and Brazil guidebooks, including a special section on the much-buzzed-about soccer tournament. The company also added a World Cup Fever feature to Fodors.com, including interactive maps and a full match schedule, along with downloadable apps.
Other series, too, saw developments in 2014. The Amsterdam iteration of Rick Steves’s popular Pocket guidebooks debuted, as did second editions for Paris, London, and Rome. Additionally, new editions of Steves’s Phrase Books were released for the first time in six years. Newlin says that the earlier editions of these five titles sold more than 500,000 units combined. “The new ones have been completely revised and are printed for the first time in full color,” he adds, “with 50% more content and a correspondingly higher price, and sales are stronger than ever.”
Globe Pequot is adding a number of titles to its Discovering Vintage series, which focuses on classic attractions in major cities—restaurants, bars, shops, and more. Discovering Vintage Boston published in January 2015, with books on Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco to follow later this year.
Fodor’s plans to update its Croatia and Los Cabos, Mexico, guides for 2015, but the publisher is most excited about Brooklyn. “Brooklyn is rapidly growing as a tourist destination in its own right—we selected it for our 2013 Go List, and it’s only increased in popularity,” D’Acierno says. Running Press is also publishing a guide to the borough: Off Track Planet’s Brooklyn Travel Guide for the Young, Sexy, and Broke (May), the publisher’s second project with the Off Track Planet website.
Experiential vacations—where one immerses oneself in the local culture—are increasingly popular, and publishers have responded accordingly. Consider Lonely Planet’s new mix-and-match Make My Day series, spanning locales from Barcelona to Hong Kong. “It’s a simple format, broken up into morning, afternoon, and evening. It’s very visual as you flip through photos, and when you see something you like you stop on it and in essence create your perfect day in the city,” says Pickard.
Tapping into this interest in focused travel, Lonely Planet is unveiling its Road Trip series, highlighting tailored journeys—for instance, Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway. In a similar vein, Avalon Travel has just introduced Moon Road Trip guides, beginning with Moon Florida Road Trip and followed by titles covering the Pacific Northwest, California, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. This comes in the wake of a substantial overhaul for the Moon brand—a new Moon cover design and logo were introduced on new titles in May 2014, and the company has begun publishing more of the Moon guides in full color; going forward, the majority of the list will be full color.
In summer 2015, Globe Pequot is following Barbecue Lover’s Texas, Seafood Lover’s Pacific Northwest, and Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay with In Cod We Trust: From Sea to Shore, the Celebrated Cuisine of Coastal Massachusetts and Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. “These are strong regional titles, which have national appeal because of the region and the subject matter,” says Globe Pequot’s Lyons. Next up: the Made series, debuting in July 2015 and showcasing states’ top cottage industries; the first two titles will be Connecticut Made and Massachusetts Made.
Some destinations will never go out of style. A perennial interest in Europe inspired FrommerMedia to create an inaugural continent-wide guide for 2015. Forthcoming DK Eyewitness Guides to Boston, Hawaii, and Venice exemplify a devotion to these classics as well. On the other hand, DK sister imprint Rough Guides has Burma and Nepal on the agenda in 2015, in addition to Greece. “While having a strong digital strategy is hugely important, we must not lose sight of our print books,” says Georgina Dee, DK travel publishing director. “2014 has shown us that there is still a core audience for guide books that are beautiful to look at yet comprehensive and authoritative in voice.”
Checking Out a New Destination
The local library remains a popular resource for would-be vacationers. Miriam Tuliao, assistant director of selection for the New York Public Library, says she sees a steady demand for travel titles in print and digital formats in the categories of adventure literature, armchair travel, guidebooks, and natural history. For November 2014, Tuliao identified the top five circulating guidebooks as DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: New York City; Moon Costa Rica; and Fodor’s guides to New York City, Cancún and the Riviera Maya, and the Caribbean, with the DK Eyewitness book garnering 71 checkouts. As one would expect, the demand for titles varies from month to month depending on the season, she says.
Alia Akkam is a writer living in New York who covers food, drink, travel, and design.
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