A decade ago it looked as if guidebooks would not survive the digital age. But well-written, authoritative titles have defied the odds and continue to thrive – they ignite the imagination
It was 2011 when a friend of mine returned to the UK having travelled overland from Thailand, and casually mentioned that he had made the entire journey using just his iPhone – no maps, and certainly no guidebook. When he needed to make a detour around Myanmar, to find out what time the main post office closed in Delhi, or to book a cheap hotel room in Istanbul, he turned to travel forums, Google and TripAdvisor.
It was around the same time that articles began appearing in the press, proclaiming the death of the guidebook. After reaching a peak in 2005, sales declined by an estimated 40% in the UK and US between 2005 and 2012. Seeing the writing on the wall, several independent guidebook publishers sold up to multinational media companies, including Lonely Planet, which was bought by BBC Worldwide for around £130m. Less than three years after completing the purchase, the BBC’s commercial arm sold it off for just £50m, acknowledging it had not been a sound investment. In 2012 Frommer’s, the bestselling travel guide brand in the US, was sold to Google, which said it would stop publishing printed editions.