Fan of Travel Guide Books? You Aren’t Alone.

Written by John Conley
VP Commercial Print and Publishing, Xerox Corporation

Have you been following the story of Google’s acquisition of Frommer’s Travel in August of 2012, and the subsequent news just last March that the newly-owned Google company would no longer be producing print versions of their travel guide? Well, there is now another twist in this ongoing saga, but this time it’s a positive turn for consumers of the travel guide series and the print industry as a whole.
Just last week, news broke that Frommer’s had reacquired their business from Google. The Wall Street Journal reported that a delighted Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer’s business, stated his intention to “publish some 40 titles, 20 of which will be available digitally and in print, and the other half available only in print”.

In a world with the prevalence of tablets and smartphones growing by the day, print should not be forgotten. This is especially true in the eyes of a traveler, either with a desire to disconnect and unplug while traveling, or a necessity to do so due to lack of Wi-Fi, exorbitant roaming charges, or confusing/expensive/incompatible international phone plans. For these reasons, printed guidebooks help provide travelers with peace of mind and an always-faithful resource.
Case in point: a 2012 study was conducted to assess the types of technologies and resources being used by tourists visiting Ireland.
The intent was to provide tangible data to tourism businesses on usage of travel guides and mobile devices by visitors. The study identified that the majority of respondents (37%) stated to using physical hard copy travel guide books for information and reference, with the second most frequently used resource being information provided by a tour office (17%).
Mobile devices and travel apps represented the third most frequently used category at 14% – a surprise to Ireland’s Tourism Department who initially speculated that mobile devices would be used at a considerably higher rate.
These findings are in line with a recent study conducted by JWT, showing  81% of respondents (and 84% of baby boomers) stated that physical objects personify an endurance that digital objects are not able to recreate. In that same study, 77% said they enjoy the smell and touch of printed books.
This isn’t to say that print should be mutually exclusive to tablets, mobile devices, and other gateways to the digital world. There is a meaningful connection between print and digital, as we’ve seen in countless examples where a digital experience was made more enjoyable by the presence of print, and vice versa.
With an affinity for the tactile and tangible coupled with a baby boomer population that currently accounts for roughly 80% of domestic and foreign leisure travel – there is certainly an enduring value in offering printed travel guides. And Frommer’s agrees.
While print will continue to thrive for Frommer’s in the near term, it will be very interesting to monitor the strategy moving forward for how print and digital are integrated, and how Frommer’s will balance the needs of the emerging digital consumer with the remaining conspicuous consumption years of the baby boomer.
This represents the real opportunity for Frommer’s rebirth in print. It is one thing for print to merely survive, but this is an opportunity for print to thrive and evolve.
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  1. Andy & Julie Plata April 10, 2013 -

    John – This is an excellent post.

    We purchased American Printer after it was shut down by its previous owner. At that time it seemed like many B2B publications were abandoning print. However, we are printers who believe in print, so we decided to do whatever it took to maintain and enhance the printed American Printer magazine. After much investigation the decision was made to invest in updating the old-style B2B to with our newly developed individualized, interactive B2Me printed platform.

    In essence we integrated the best of the online experience with a tactile, read anywhere, printed magazine experience. As you can imagine, the response has been excellent. Subscriptions were free under the previous owner. But, the new American Printer B2Me magazine commands $85/year with new subscribers from around the world (yesterday we received another one from China).

    To us, this is proof that by applying TODAY’s technology, print will continue to be a strategic component of the information age.

    To Great and powerful print,
    Andy & Julie Plata

  2. John Conley April 10, 2013 -

    What you are doing with American Pinter is the case study of how you evolve your print product to embrace the technology which end user now see as ubiquitous while at the same time keeping the values of print that those same end users still highly value ——- and you charge for it!!!

    Great and valuable content is judged by the pocket book and not technology pundits. The Wall Street Journal showed us all that path years ago when they charged for the electronic subscription. Evolving the product to take into account the needs of the end user while enhancing the value of the content may in fact actually be worth more than just the old product.

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