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Innovation in Travel Books

(Posted from The Publeconomist, published 07/27/10)

I love to travel, but I can’t seem to imagine walking around a brand new city with an iPad as my tour guide. An article this week in the Wall Street Journal describes the new and expanded efforts of travel publishers such as Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and John Wiley & Sons Inc., to sell their books electronically. The article cites falling sales in travel books as a reason for the new e-books push, although I wonder if e-books will solve the problem. I’m sure they can’t hurt, and I think it’s terrific that these companies are trying to revolutionize their products. But I just can’t imagine walking around Rome with my city guide on a Kindle! There’s something great about those Lonely Planet pocket guides that’s hard to beat.

What are some of the advantages to travel e-books? New technology and industry synergy will create a more easily navigable travel world. For example, on that Rome trip you can pull out your city guide, pre-loaded on the iPad, locate tonight’s restaurant, and instantly get directions from your location. For some, this kind of GPS system might defeat the fun of exploration and city walking. There’s something great about being in a foreign city, surrounded by an unfamiliar language, and still being able to find your way around. A little computer that does all the heavy lifting for you could create a less exciting travel experience.

I’m curious to see what the future holds for travel e-books. If these companies can incorporate language into the guidebooks, I can see an enormous benefit. It’s one thing to awkwardly and incorrectly recite translations off of a pocket travel guide. It’s another to have an iPad guide with perfect audio translations. In addition, I think it would be enormously cool if a guide or app had a GPS feature that could identify if you’re standing near a historical or important building or site. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in another city and wondered, “what the hell am I looking at?!” If I could pull out my iPad and get a history of the building I’m standing within twenty feet of, then I can see enormous value in the technological transformation of travel guides. Let’s see how these travel publishers choose to innovate.

Anthony DiFiore, Publisher

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