Travelblather

Lonely Planet – the Tesco of the travel publishing world?

I read recently that the BBC is now running a Lonely Planet Travel pod on its pages outside the UK. (So unfortunately I can't take a look at it as I am in the UK at the moment.)

I've blogged quite recently about the new Lonely Planet travel magazine which I think is an unfair competitor to Wanderlust (an excellent independent travel magazine which I write for quite a bit).

Why is this unfair? Because LP is now majority-owned by the BBC.

Following on from the new LP Travel magazine (which is written almost 100% by BBC writers and presenters) here's another example of how that playing field just isn't level anymore. Any brand would kill for a tie-up with the BBC on the BBC's homepage. The value in brand terms is huge. And this will translate to more hits for the LP website, more ad revenue and more book sales for LP.

You can't blame LP for wanting to make the most of the fact that its now owned by the BBC (or to be more accurate the commerical arm of the Beeb - BBC Worldwide) and with the clout of one of the world's most influential and wealthy media brands behind it the future for LP looks rosy.

I hadn't thought too much when the deal was announced about the impact on the LP brand of being owned by the BBC, but selling out to a big corporation says heaps about a brand and its future. I can see that Tony Wheeler (LP's founder) quite possibly felt that selling to a cultural corporation like the BBC rather than to a full-on multi-national commercial publisher was a good compromise... and smart too - moving the brand on from being a traditional paper and print publisher to a forward looking media organisation.

But I think it's all wrong. He'd have been better off selling to a fully commercial publisher (or media organisation) rather than one that's subsidised by the UK taxpayer. (Non UK readers - every tax payer in the UK pays an annual TV licence that costs around £130). Whilst some would argue that BBC Worldwide is a separate entity, the reality is that you can't work out where the taxpayer funded elements of the BBC start and where the commerically funded ones take over. And the benefits of association with the BBC brand are - whilst difficult to measure - most probably huge 

I'm worried that LP
is going to turn into some awful travel publishing megabrand that's everywhere. (take Jamie bleedin
Oliver - lovely guy but do we REALLY need a Jamie magazine? For
heaven's sake!) Watch this space for LP branded TV shows, LP branded clothes and gear, LP branded areas in tour operators and a plethora or LP branded websites, blog hosting services ane more... not to mention LP guide content being sold to third party tour operators, airlines and so on to use as destination content on their websites.

This would all be well and good - innovation is a great thing and LP is doing some smart things - if the taint of taxpayer money supporting the company was not there.

But it is and always will be and there is no way of countering the accusation successfully.

Will LP become the Tescos or the McDonalds of the travel publishing world? Hugely successful but resented by many for its reach.

If it does it will be a far cry indeed from the company's worthy beginnings - Tony Wheeler and his wife sitting down at a kitchen table to self-publish a guidebook for backpackers to India.

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