Travel Guides Still Selling Well, Saved by Portability

This article from the New York Times talks about efforts being made by the travel guide industry to avoid being disrupted by the Internet.

“We want to be in a position where, if the business suddenly collapses in five years, we have a plan — unlike the music industry,” said Martin Dunford, publishing director of Rough Guides, which is part of the Penguin division of the media company Pearson, based in London.

So far, the digital media revolution has been much less turbulent for guidebook publishers than for record companies, which are fighting rampant online copying. Sales of travel guides, while flat in some traditionally stalwart markets like Britain, have been growing strongly in developing countries and in the United States (…).

Travel publishers sold 14.8 million books in the United States last year, up 11 percent from two years ago, according to Nielsen BookScan. Still, guidebook companies may have missed an opportunity on the Internet.

Travel Guide books

(Flickr photo by Malias)

What it means: Portability, brand and content are this industry’s key success factors. I think they’ve been saved from disruption so far because of the combo of crappy mobile devices, bad wireless access and half-baked applications. When you travel, it’s still much easier to carry your print guide book with you than try to access online sites and applications. The industry is doing interesting stuff right now but, if I was running their online strategy, I would be putting a lot more energy behind social travel mobile applications. This is where the industry will be disrupted, when mobile comes of age (check out Dopplr for a glimpse at the future).

By the way, the following excerpts/quotes from the article could have been written about the directory industry (or the newspaper industry):

  • “While many travel publishers have had Web sites for a long time, some of them, along with booksellers, initially worried about cannibalizing sales of guidebooks”
  • “Digital business still generates relatively little revenue for guidebook publishers — less than 5 percent of sales at Penguin’s travel division, for example, according to executives there.”
  • “There’s been a lot of experimentation, but maybe not enough revenue coming back from digital,”
  • “The travel guide business, the good old-fashioned paper book, is still a strong and healthy business,” Ms. Slatyer said. “And we think it will be for some time.”