Home > Uncategorized > Opportunities in travel guidebook publishing?

Opportunities in travel guidebook publishing?

November 21, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments


Aside from the freelance journalism I do for various newspapers and magazines, I also work with two guidebook publishers on a relatively regularly basis: Moon Handbooks and Lonely Planet. As a result, I tend to stay fairly current with what goes on in the travel guidebook field, and believe me when I tell you that it is a much more tumultuous world than most of you would probably figure. And what’s more, as is the case with most things tumultuous — relationships especially — the vast majority of arguments between the people who publish guidebooks and the people who write them tend to be about money. It usually goes something like this: The writers bitch to the publishers that they’re being lied to and unethically scammed. The publishers then feign disbelief, as if to suggest that they’ve never been anything but hugely generous.

As a guidebook author with an insider’s perspective, I can tell you with complete certainty that both sides are kidding themselves, but I’m afraid that’s another post altogether. 

The point of this post is to mention the fact that over the past few years, quite a few of these writers have been creating their own independentlyproduced guidebooks. Not published as actual hardcopy guides, mind you, but rather as websites with entirely free content.

It’s important to note, of course, that not all of these budding online publishers have jumped ship, so to speak. One of the better online guides, in fact, is the Vietnam guide that was researched, written, and recently published by Robert Reid, a Lonely Planet veteran who still works for LP on a fairly regular basis. Leif Pettersen is another current Lonely Planet author with an online guide — his covers Romania and Moldova. Leif blogs regularly for Gadling, and I strongly recommend taking a look at his recent post about this very same subject; you’ll find links in Leif’s post to some of the most popular online guides.

* * *

I’ve been chatting a bit about the future of guidebook publishing with the very talented Jeff Bradley, a former New York Times journalist and Harvard University writing instructor. Jeff wrote four editions of a Tennessee guide for Moon Handbooks, and has since transformed those guides into his own online publication, TNGuy.com, which is updated with fresh content weekly. TNGuy.com is one of the better online guides out there, and when I asked Jeff what he thought about the future of the travel publishing industry, he made an interesting point. “The delivery of travel information is changing,” he said. “I’m not sure where it will end, but my site keeps me in the game. There’s a brave new world of travel information delivery out there, and I intend to be a player in it.”

Interesting, huh? My interpretation is this: While it’s true that no one really knows where the industry is headed, it certainly does seem to be headed somewhere new. This clearly has a lot to do with our Internet/Information Age, and also with the fact that we live in a society where no one wants to wait for anything. Online guidebooks clearly serve this demographic very well, and I imagine it’ll be interesting to see where all these online travel-publishing pioneers end up in a year or two. (Incidentally, I’ll be joining their ranks soon. Keep your eyes on this space for more information about the upcoming MoonPittsburgh.com.)   

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. December 29, 2007 at 10:50 AM

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. As a writer embedded in Vietnam, I’ve increasingly become frustrated by publishing companies who prefer to bring new writers in, unfamiliar with the country (or any other country in the region) rather than one of the many writers living in SE Asia (or at least someone who has been visiting for many years). As a result, we get guidebooks with an outsider’s perspective, full of hotels the writer never slept in, restaurants the writer never ate in (the Wheeler’s justify this one in their “Lonely Planet Story”), and tourist attractions the writer never visited. Unlike the current climate, someone who actually is familiar with the area will, in many cases, have visited the venues they review before they are ever hired. Why should we pay for such disingenuous information?

    Why do publsihers choose writers that are new to a country? Money. A newcomer is looking for an excuse to travel and often desperate for the work and to keep their name in print. They’ll settle for unreasonable fees. An expat is already there–and they don’t need the publisher in question to continue in their lifestyle. They are much harder to pressure into a small pay-out.

    For that reason I’ve writen a number of successful travel guide sites. MuineBeach.net in Mui Ne, Vietnam is one of the most successfull, and offers a free downloadable PDF guide for the province. I’m working on more free PDF’s for cities across Asia.

    Unless we see publishers both innovate and turn to writers actually based in the countries they are writing about, I predict we’ll see some major shakeups in the next 5 years.

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