Go Read This | The loneliness of the overvalued publisher

Really nice post from Philip Jones over on FutureBook:

Yet I can’t help feel that the BBC is being unfairly pilloried, partly because it overpaid, and partly because it was, well, the BBC, and therefore unable to complete its vision. We do not see the financial performance of LP, but it won’t be pretty given what the write-down says about its costs, and the decline in the travel-book market, even though LP remains the market leader. But we do know that it was making the transition to digital, through its e-books, apps, and most importantly via its website. When it was bought by the BBC LonelyPlanet.com said it received 4.3 million visitors a month, that figure has since trebled.

Most crucially, though we may baulk at how it played out, the vision of putting the BBC and LP under one virtual roof still looks compelling. Combining the BBC’s digital know-how, its wealth of content, historical and up-to-date reports from across the globe, with Lonely Planet’s brand, its publishing nous and its reach, still looks unbeatable. The entity could have offered a true unbiased constantly updated window on the world, powered by trusted content and embellished by social interaction from the many travellers and observers attracted to such a portal. Were Google to pull off something similar, we would all be applauding.

via The loneliness of the overvalued publisher | FutureBook.

Go Read This | FT.com – The end of the guidebook?

I’ve mused about the effect of the internet on Travel Publishing a few times here. The FT has a nice piece on it that really hits home the figures:

And the latest news from the front line is not good. In fact, over the past two and a half years, guidebook sales in Britain have fallen off a cliff. Sales for 2009 were down 18 per cent on 2007, and if the second half of this year follows the first, 2010 will be down 27 per cent on 2007, according to data from Nielsen BookScan. If the current rate of decline continues, the final guidebook will be sold in less than seven years’ time.

Lonely Planet’s Australia guide sold 20,015 copies in 2008, and just 13,530 in 2009 – a drop of a third (again, the figures are from Nielsen BookScan, covering sales from British retailers). The Rough Guide to France, which sold 11,943 in 2008, fell 45 per cent to 6,561 the following year. Worse is that these are considered bestsellers.

Of course, the fortunes of individual titles fluctuate with the launch of new editions and the fashionability of destinations, but average sales across the whole range paint an equally bleak picture. Last year, the average UK sale of each title from the leading five publishers was around 1,500 copies.

via FT.com / Reportage – The end of the guidebook?.

Travel Books, the classifieds of trade publishing

Eoin Purcell

Clouds in Coffee
One of the first signs of the collapse of newspaper franchises was the expansion of listing & selling services like craigslist (in Ireland craigslist never got off the ground because of homegrown success, DAFT) and ebay.

Before big business started to drive online ads, small time folks like you and me realised that apartments could be rented, books sold and collectors editions found much more efficiently online than through the pages of a newspaper.

Travel Books Are Classifieds (kinda)
Well I’ve always thought of travel books as the kind of things that will be one of the first real `signs of trade books facing change. Which is why I was intrigued by the news in The Bookseller today that sales in the travel genre were down:

Book sales for the travel genre have been hit hard by the financial crisis, with Nielsen BookScan figures revealing an 8.7% drop by value on last year’s total.

The most revealing paragraph in the story is this one:

Although the total genre is down 8.7% in revenue terms, travel and holiday guides themselves are down only 4.8% in volume. The genres worst hit in 2008 were road atlases and street plans, which suffered year-on-year losses of 12.6% and 19.6% by value.

The TomTom and the Garmin are killing books that offer a service that is better delivered through a digital means.

There is another factor though and the article touches on it too:

the “where to stay, eat and drink” sub-genre is down 20.9% in terms of value and the rise in popularity of internet websites that provide this type of information was partially blamed for this.

BLAMED FOR THIS seems a bit harsh to me. They are the explanation but they are hardly to blame. Consumers have figured out they can access this information much more easily online and as mobile internet becomes a more pleasant experience the demand for online travel information will grow and become even more useful as the power of GPS & Location software offers instant advice.

And where does this leave us?
To some extent I feel like I am stating the obvious. There is still a role for publishers and professional content creators in this. Trusted brands will still retain caché and there is absolutely no reason why they cannot thrive on the internet and build communities around travel like Boo is trying to.

Lonely Planet for instance is making itself into a much more digital brand under BBC guidance and its pretty experienced new chief Matthew Goldberg. Look at their frontpage, it is almost devoid of books! I think that is interesting.

Ah, the dream of FUNCTIONING mobile internet with real information, it WILL happen one day you know!
And not that far away either,

BBC Worldwide buys Lonely Planet

Eoin Purcell

Seems like a good buy to me
For details read here or here or here.

I have been noticing that Lonely Planet has been extending its brand very subtly recently. For instance moving into non-specific travel books like this one or this one and launching a nice set of pictorial books too. The combination of BBC Worldwide’s broadcast power, the excellent content that Lonely Planet has between its photo archive, author bank and general travel knowledge, will make for an impressive product going forward.

In fact, TheBookseller.com carries the story and has a great quote from BBC Worldwide c.e.o. John Smith:

This deal fits well with our strategy to create one of the world’s leading content businesses, to grow our portfolio of content brands online and to increase our operations in Australia and America.

“The possibilities of the web + great content = compelling argument” argument strikes again. I wonder if all these seemingly great partnerships will deliver what is expected of them. I say this not to relate doubt over BBC/Lonely Planet which is a powerful combination, but more to sound a general note of caution on such deals, they cannot all pay of, and someone is going to buy a compelling argument that does not transfer to the web as expected.

Still, one to watch