What are the key trends for 2012 in travel guide publishing?

Travel publishing faces many challenges and opportunities in 2012 - Frommer's regional editor Mark Henshall looks at the year ahead.

The future of the guidebook – a series of guest posts by Mark Henshall

A key component for a successful guidebook is the relationship between writer and editor. Mark Henshall my Frommer’s editor has been a great encouragement, a steadying hand and a thoughtful advisor over the years. When we meet we often talk about wider trends in publishing and travel writing. From one of these chats in a Brighton coffee shop, the idea of a series of posts from Mark on Travelblather was born. We based them around five questions from me and five thought provoking and insightful answers from Mark in response.

1) What are the key trends for 2012 in travel guide publishing?

2) Is the travel guidebook as we know it on the verge of extinction?

3) How can a guidebook publisher innovate its way out of the declining guidebook market?

4) How does the changing guidebook marketplace affect guidebook writers and how do they need to adapt?

5) How is the pressure from online booksellers affecting traditional bookshops?

Mark will respond to comments too when he has time! All comments and the posts themselves express Mark’s personal opinions and not his publisher’s.

So, here’s the first post!


1) What are the key trends for 2012 in travel guide publishing?

There are huge opportunities for publishers that embrace digital in the travel space. By adopting flexible, digital-first content management systems, it allows them to be more innovative and playful with content, and to offer exciting new capabilities and services to readers.

As traditional travel print guides become a smaller part of the market, we’ll see more platform-neutral publishers experimenting and increasing their social outreach activities. Many more app and online start-ups will come into the market focusing on niche areas of travel, but I also think we’ll see more self-publishing outfits emerge. Traditional guide companies will still invest in products that remain robust and competitive, and those who are able to, will experiment and diversify beyond this, whilst still playing to their established strengths. These will be joined by more non-publishing companies and communities. Games companies, broadcasters and internet developers will migrate into publishing as travel providers seek to create imaginative digital storytelling for a traveller’s “arc” (planning to post-trip and memories), and a virtuous circle of recommendation and engagement for the reader. This will all be heightened by a focus on developing direct contact with the consumer and the continued drive for brand differentiation as the market expands.

As the rush towards digital continues, I think e-books will be the big story of this year as they really go mainstream and get smarter. This won’t all be plain sailing. E-book piracy will be prevalent and as new digital devices (e-books to Android) proliferate and technologies advance there are the issues of “open standards” (can one of my gadgets talk to another on a different network?) and searching for interoperability solutions - not one size fits all  (trying to get e-files to fit different devices and DRM challenges). On the flipside, 2012 could be when customer data finally arrives in publishing courtesy of e-books, which may have a sizeable impact. Publishers may start to gain far richer information about their readers which should help them adapt and improve their products.

E-publishing in emerging economies is growing especially fast. In the densely populated BRIC economies, there is a huge expectation about the digital penetration of e-books, tablets and e-readers. According to a Publishing Perspectives report, Amazon is going full tilt to Rio eyeing the huge potential e-book market there with a new Kindle "vendor manager" in Brazil. Amazon’s Mauro Widman previously worked on developing the e-book platform of Brazil's bookshop chain Livraria Cultura and presentations to Brazilian publishers are expected this month. Amazon is also expanding into China with a new $95 million distribution centre in the South Eastern city of Nanning which is well placed for expansion into the rest of South East Asia too. Amazon has also just launched a beta e-commerce site in India called, allowing it and third party sellers to vend 12 million products by over 14,000 Indian and global brands, including books.

Meanwhile, Apple has launched a new multimedia app, iBooks Author, to allow writers to create their own e-books, albeit just through the iBookstore, in a move to rival Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.

In Europe, there was evidence at the Italian e-book conference IfBookThen (IBT) that Europe is ready for an e-book revolution of its own and that this may offer competition to US-based tech giants such as Google and Apple. Spanish technology consultantt, Javier Celya pushed for the creation of a European-wide digital platform, citing Airbus as an example where such a collaboration has worked before in Europe. Whether this is realistic or not, there may be room for a new e-bookseller to emerge with a global reach and a multilingual platform.

I think travel publishing will begin to move more towards – and interact with - adjacent lifestyle spaces too. It’s something you can see a little of in the e-book market with players such as Small Demons. The social/sharing aspect of the e-book ecosystem will also increase (e.g. Good Reads and Anobii). Devices such as Kindle Fire will be updated and improved, and e-books/enhanced e-books will change the playing field significantly. It’s way too early to predict the various permutations that will evolve, but I certainly expect more short-form, episodic and serial work. Trey Ratcliff explains the short-form opportunity in more depth, highlighting the way that emergent behaviour in the ease of buying and downloading short-form e-books (e.g. for travel, think Ahmedabad instead of India), and social media acting as a marketing multiplier, will fuel this category.

The e-book purchasing experience is also becoming easier (downloading to your preferred device) and as retailers integrate their print carts with e-product, the real customer demand for “P+E bundles” (eg: a guidebook to Andalusia for background and planning and an app to Seville for on the ground exploration) will be harnessed. Publishers who have a robust mix of print and digital will be able to seize these opportunities. On the horizon is ePub3.0, something that could be very interesting for travel. Its new script interface (“scalable vector graphic” format) will allow new complex components and interaction (e.g. quizzes on destination e-books). A speech enabled “read aloud” mechanism could also be handy. So, say you’re in a cafe, for example, you could use the media overlay audio feature to help you order a coffee correctly from a phrase book. I’m sure they’ll be a lot to play with.

Other existing trends that will increase include: a rapid rise of travel video traffic online; audio voice recognition going mainstream; smart TV becoming more familiar; tablet smart books becoming more innovative; travel images becoming vital; and metadata/geo-coding to enhance local detail and travel experiences.

A tiny snapshot really. It's certainly an interesting time to be working in travel publishing!

What do you think?

Image by Flickr user: dannyman

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