Feiler Faster

I, for one, would like to ditch bulkly guidebooks with all those chapters on places I’m not going to, but the time is not now. I can see buying the overseas mapping service for my GPS and downloading a chapter to my Blackberry, but not yet. Still seems futurisitic. But change is coming. Lonely Planet has been sold to the BBC. It’s now offering chapters of its guidebooks for sale online and will upload all of their content online soon. Restaurant recommendations and other tips are more current online than in books. But guidebooks seems to be defying the rush to online content, for now.

So far, the digital media revolution has been much less turbulent for guidebook publishers than for record companies, which have fallen victim to 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 – despite a weak dollar, which has made overseas trips more expensive for U.S. citizens. Travel publishers sold 14.8 million books in the United States last year, up 11 percent from two years earlier, according to Nielsen Bookscan.
Still, guidebook companies may have missed an opportunity on the Internet, which presents them with moneymaking possibilities that have not generally been open to publishers of other kinds of books.
“Given how conducive the Internet is to what they do, they were probably a bit slow in developing this side of the business,” said Alexander Burmaster, an analyst at Nielsen Online, which tracks Internet traffic.
TripAdvisor spotted the potential in tapping users’ reviews of hotels, package trips and tourist attractions, and collecting a fee each time they click through to reserve a room, for instance, on a partner site. TripAdvisor supplements users’ reviews with links to sites run by guidebook publishers like Frommer’s. TripAdvisor, which is owned by Expedia, does not break out financial figures separately from its parent.
In reaching Internet audiences, TripAdvisor has clearly been a big success, placing third among travel-related Web sites worldwide, according to Nielsen Online. About 3.6 percent of users of travel Web sites visit TripAdvisor in an average month, placing it third behind Expedia and another booking service, Orbitz. Among guidebook sites, Lonely Planet ranks first, Nielsen says, but with an audience reach of only 0.3 percent.

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