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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