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Abrams to Interlink
Jones Books to White Start
Travel has changed radically since the days of the Victorian Grand Tour, when the privileged classes would pack their steamer trunks for European journeys that could stretch into years while the common folk contented themselves with a trip to the shore or to a town with a springs. Travel in our time has become much more democratic, global and fast. Two decades ago, says travel writer Rick Steves, Eurailpasses were guarded as carefully as passports. "People would do 17 countries. Now, it's the south of France, or Portugal, or the heel of Italy. People are more focused."
And taking shorter trips, says Avalon Travel publisher Bill Newlin. "They are valuing time over money, looking for ways to make educated decisions. People want to find something new, have stories to tell, but what that means has changed." Newlin and Steves are just the latest in a long line of travel book folk who have tried to keep up with the changing whims of travelers. The much-cherished Baedeker guides of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are collectors' items today, valued for the excellence of the writing and the romance that still clings to a world of empires and hat boxes. But the books themselves are obsolete in a world of cell service and time-shares. "The unknown is harder to find today," says Newlin, "but the craving for adventure survives." As does the determination of travel book publishers to remain relevant.
Indeed, all the major travel lines today—Fodor's, Frommer's, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Moon, Insight, Rick Steves, Michelin—started in response to a perceived need in the marketplace. Even Karl Baedeker felt that there were no books available at the time that filled the traveler's need in the precise way he saw it. Not a single publisher watching over today's once eponymous (for the most part) imprints said that the spirit of the founder had changed, though the scope and breadth of the offerings are far different from what they used to be.
Let's Go has more than 50 titles covering six continents; Rough Guides takes in more than 200 destinations. Fodor's lines encompass more than 14 different series, and Frommer's titles number more than 330. Michelin now offers about 200 different guidebook titles, while Lonely Planet's number exceeds 600.
When Eugene Fodor brought out his first book, in 1936, Baedeker's (published in Germany), Murray's Hand-Books (London), Michelin Guides (France) and Hachette's Blue Guides (also France) were preeminent. Baedeker's had a venerable place in the annals of travel, but Fodor perceived new needs for the tourists of his era: he wanted them to have up-to-date, practical information and to understand what he called "the human side" of the places they visited. He researched his first book, 1936... On the Continent, while working for a steamship line and writing freelance travel articles.
In the introduction Fodor reminded his readers that the rewards of travel derive from the interactions with people in the visited locales. "We have proceeded on the assumption that your thirst for historical knowledge is nothing like so great as your thirst for the beer of Pilsen or the slivovitsa of Belgrade," he wrote. In 1950 Fodor took his guides to the David McKay Company and published books on France, Switzerland and Italy. His guide to Great Britain and Ireland, compiled in a single book, evoked loud protests from the Irish and were subsequently issued as two distinct titles.
In large measure attracted by the Fodor franchise, Random House bought David McKay in 1986 and undertook a major overhaul of the guides. Despite considerable diversification, the books haven't deviated from Fodor's vision, says Fodor's publisher Tim Jarrell. "The experience of travel has changed, but why people travel and the motivation is still the same."
Fodor's dominated the travel market for roughly a decade, until an ex-OSS employee named Temple Fielding entered the arena in 1948 with a hardcover guide to Europe. A bit more high-tone than Fodor's, Fielding's Travel Guide to Europe had become, by the time a profile of the author appeared in Time magazine in 1969, a 1,485-page, 909,000-word primer weighing just over two pounds. The company existed as recently as 1997—Robert Young Pelton, author of Fielding's The World's Most Dangerous Places, bought the company name from Morrow in 1993 and published traditional guides for a while—but Pelton's books are now published by HarperCollins and few Fielding guides are still in print.
In 1957, Arthur Frommer, a young lawyer in the U.S. Army, wrote a slim travel guide for American GIs in Europe, then produced a civilian version that caught the popular imagination of the era: Europe on $5 a Day. The book ranked sights in order of importance and included budget travel suggestions. "Arthur showed that everyone could travel and had the right to travel," says Michael Spring, the publisher of Frommer's Travel Guides, now published by Wiley. "We've gone from one book to over 320 books, but the vision hasn't changed."
Frommer's idea was that by traveling cheap you'd get inside the culture. "You'd stay at a B&B and talk to the owners at the breakfast table and meet the other guests," says Spring. By 2004 Frommer's signature guide to Europe was up to "starting" at $85 a day, while the 2006 Paris guide starts at $90.
Frommer continued to self-publish his guides while practicing law and in 1977 he sold the business to S&S. Through a series of subsequent sales the books ended up at Wiley. By the time Spring came in as publisher, in the early '90s, "the books were safe, geriatric, schoolmarmy, for a generation that hadn't traveled much," he says. "We started from scratch and wrote for the active, curious savvy traveler." Some of these travelers happened to be well-heeled. "It's our feeling that money shouldn't be held against you. The issue in traveling isn't how expensive, but how special," Spring says.
As travel became easier—planes faster, fares cheaper—students started thronging charter flights to get a taste of Europe during summer vacations. The guides on the market, which were aimed at a middle-class crowd, didn't address their needs. Over the next decade, several young entrepreneurs—hippie idealists—wrote guides for this young, curious (and underfinanced) group.
The first to appear was Let's Go Europe, in 1960. The original was a mimeographed pamphlet put together by students at Harvard Student Agencies and handed out gratis to those who booked charter flights to Europe. Two years later the guide had grown to 124 pages and carried a $1 price tag. "The budget advice available at the time was staid," says Tom Mercer, editorial and marketing manager for Let's Go at St. Martin's, which has published the series since 1982. "The authors of Let's Go were the audience themselves, young, adventurous Americans starting to sow their oats."
The line hasn't really deviated from its original idea, though the content reflects modern realities. Now, as in the early years, the books are written by young travelers who are paid for their efforts. "They go out and interview locals and try to get the flavor of a place," Mercer explains. "We've gone from a writer-centric mode to a culture-centric mode. The demands of the consumer are such that you have to provide cultural insight, detailed maps that are accurate, and detailed listings over and above what is available on the Web."
In the late 1960s, a young German student named Hans Hofer was putting the finishing touches on a different kind of guide, one that would show people what faraway places looked like in order to impart an understanding of other people's ways of life. "He took the hippie trail from Europe to Southeast Asia in a VW minibus. He traded his possessions and sold paintings to finance each subsequent leg of his trip," recounts Marc Jennings, president of the Langenscheidt Publishing Group, the map, language and travel publisher, which became owner of Insight in 1996.
"On his trip he decided his future in Germany wasn't very appealing so he sold his remaining possession, the VW bus, to the son of the king of Nepal, and continued his trip on foot and public transportation. He arrived in Bali and fell in love with the island's culture." Hofer thought guidebooks stinted on the conveying the sheer joy of travel and set out to redress that. Insight Bali, his first book, appeared in 1970, self-published with financial help from a German hotelier. The guide combined magazine-style writing with full-color photography, an innovation in the field at the time. The first edition sold 20,000 copies in its first year.
Insight Guides are published under the name Hofer originally gave his company, APA Publications. "Apa is a Malaysian prefix that turns a statement into an inquiry," Jennings explains, noting its suitability for a publication that set out to answer questions. By the late 1980s, there were more than 100 titles in the series; now there are 400. Jennings says, "Hofer wanted people to walk away from his books not with a checklist of things to do or see but with a real sense of the true beauty and essence of the place they were about to visit or had just visited."
As Hofer was getting Insight off the ground, other adventurous travelers were making tracks off ever more lightly beaten paths. The year was 1973, and both Bill Dalton, whose Moon Publications was soon to launch, and Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the inspiration behind Lonely Planet, were traipsing through their respective territories in Asia.
There may be some confusion about which made its appearance first, but the record is clear: Dalton's A Traveller's Notes:Indonesia appeared in April 1973 as a six-page typed and mimeographed pamphlet distributed as a "gypsy guide" during a 10-day arts festival in southeastern Australia. Tony Wheeler's Across Asia on the Cheap, the first Lonely Planet guide, appeared in October under somewhat similar circumstances, with a reference to Dalton's book in it ("…A Traveller's Notes should be available in most big bookshops for 50 cents," he writes).
The last edition of the Indonesia book, 1,350 pages, was published in 1995. "Bill Dalton was a writer who became a publisher, Tony Wheeler was an MBA who briefly became a writer," says Bill Newlin, publisher of Avalon Travel, Moon's current owner and himself a onetime travel writer. "Bill did a wonderful job of establishing the template that we've continued to develop over the past 15 years."
It's no accident, Newlin says, that Southeast Asia was the locale Dalton and his colleagues at Lonely Planet focused on. "It was a new frontier, a countercultural phenomenon, an updating of the Grand Tour, as Europe became more common." Dalton sold his majority interest in 1989 and stayed on as publisher until 1990. He lives in Bali and stays in touch with the company on an occasional basis.
Across Asia on the Cheap was collated from notes Tony Wheeler had made while traveling from London to Kabul in a beat-up minivan with his wife, Maureen. The book, Wheeler writes, "was the answer to the many questions people asked us about our adventures." A year later the Wheelers produced South-East Asia on a Shoestring, which was an expanded edition of Across Asia on the Cheap.
With the help of upward of 400 independent writers and photographers Lonely Planet now markets some 650 titles in 118 countries. The company claims annual sales of more than six million guidebooks—about a quarter of all the English-language guidebooks sold—which would make it the world's largest publisher of travel guides. The Wheelers are majority owners of Lonely Planet, based in Melbourne, and their two children work for the company. "Lonely Planet has always been based on the concept that travel is important," says Todd Sotkiewicz, president of Lonely Planet America. "We've never deviated from that. It's exciting that the mission is unchanged."
The company has come to regard itself as more than a book publisher. Its roster of activities include an interactive Web site, an image bank with 200,000 travel images available to registered users, a TV company (its series Six Degrees, about cities of the world, is scheduled for U.S. broadcast this year), podcasts and, of course, its guidebook and reference program. The company has lobbied Congress to enact a national passport month, to get Americans to travel and appreciate other people's world. It recently announced a partnership with the Chinese company SDX to publish Lonely Planet guides in Chinese.
According to Sotkiewicz, "What we really want to do is inspire people to explore, to help them understand the world. We say, don't just use our guidebooks, go see the world for yourselves. Throw away the guidebook. Be informed but then go and go and go. That's been our influence."
Rick Steves, a sort of throwback to the Europe-only market, felt it his mission to help people organize their time, a goal he has stuck with since his first book appeared, in 1980. Steves got his start in 1976 with a series of lectures in the Seattle area designed to teach people how to travel in Europe efficiently and meaningfully. Why Europe? It was a place he knew and loved, having traveled there many times as a child with his family, and as an adult on his own. He took his lectures and packaged them in book form as Europe Through the Back Door andself-published it in three editions, each with miserable sales. ("They didn't even have ISBNs," he says.) Eventually the travel publisher John Muir got interested and brought Steves onboard.
"Rick went to see Bill Dalton in Chico, California, to see if Moon would distribute his book," says Avalon Publishing's Newlin, who has overseen the Rick Steves line (as well as Moon) since Avalon purchased John Muir in 1999. But Moon didn't take it on. In 1990 Steves got a big break, his own TV program on public television, Travels in Europe with Rick Steves. Shortly thereafter, John Muir branded Steves's titles, including a 22 Days series under the Rick Steves Guides banner.
"Rick has had to change less because he was at the front end of shorter and more selective trips from the beginning," says Newlin. "He contains only positive recommendations. His books reflect his values about what he thinks things are worth." The Steves staff numbers 60, and each of his books is updated annually.
In terms of flexibly defined parameters, Rough Guides, which got off the ground in 1982, pushes the envelope as far as possible. Among its most recent offerings are Rough Guide to the Da Vinci Code, Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping and Rough Guides to iPods, iTunesand Music. These far-flung subjects—for which one needs no passport or transportation—under the umbrella of a travel imprint impart a sense of unexpected adventure to topics wide of the usual travel mark.
Rough Guides first publication was a country guide. "At the time it was an incredibly easy environment in which to launch a travel book," says Mark Ellingham, president of the company and one of the original founders. "Aside from Lonely Planet, which hadn't moved out of Asia at the time, it was wide open. There was nothing remotely contemporary. Back then, guidebooks were so journalistic, all of us starting had a chance to take a new journalism approach. We didn't have any expectations at all. It was a wonderful stroke of luck."
Routledge & Kegan Paul, an established British publishing house, took the guides on. The first books were very rough looking, says Ellingham. "Routledge had something called Direct Editions, which were typeset on glorified typewriters, and did ours that way." Ellingham commissioned a guide to Morocco, the first in English in 20 years. The list quickly mushroomed to 10 titles, then 20. "In five years we had 25 books," Ellingham says. "We began with European destinations and then branched out. When we did China in 1987 there was only a small guide available, China off the Beaten Track. We and Lonely Planet were publishing to destinations no one else was doing. Peru, our seventh book, wasn't an obvious destination, but someone convinced us they could do a wonderful guide and there'd be a market to support it. In retrospect there wasn't much secondary information to help you but everything you wrote was a huge advance on what was there because there wasn't anything there."
As the company has matured, it has become more systematic by default. "We haven't done Italy, or Thailand or Japan and you realize these are big destinations. We began to fill in the gaps. The first seven or eight years we avoided Lonely Planet territory and they avoided ours."
The field has become ridiculously crowded, Ellingham says, noting that Rough Guides were lucky to have a brand name that lent itself to diversification. Its bestselling book, The Rough Guide to the Internet, currently has four million copies in print. "It's trailed off now, but in Great Britain it was on the bestseller lists," Ellingham says.
The staff is about 100 people, most in London, with some in New York and Delhi. When a newly designed Rough Guide Web site inaugurates in August, about one third of the company's 200 titles will be available online in their entirety.
What lies ahead, Ellingham says, is still a mystery. "The bar keeps raising. The launch of Google Earth, which allows you to travel on computer by satellite imagery to any place on earth, is amazing. I don't know what affect that's going to have. It's quite an exciting innovation really, and an incredible example of the bar being raised so high."
For listings of forthcoming travel titles and a sidebar on collectible travel guides, see www.publishersweekly.com