Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tweets from a Lonely Planet

July 25, 2013 - The New Yorker - Posted by   
In 1972, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, a young, broke couple living in London, decided to take a yearlong trip around the world together. After following the popular so-called hippie trail through England, Asia, and Australia, they realized that there was no guide geared toward “a new breed of laid-back, independent travellers” like themselves, and turned the diaries they kept during their trip into a self-published book, “Across Asia on the Cheap.” That guide, followed closely by “South-East Asia on a Shoestring,” was the first installment of what became the Lonely Planet travel-book empire, the blue-spined “backpackers’ bibles” that, with their emphasis on off-the-beaten-path destinations and inexpensive hostels, helped subsequent generations of budget-conscious young people indulge their wanderlust.

Last week, backpackers were dismayed to learn that Lonely Planet (which was sold by BBC Worldwide to the Nashville-based NC2 Media, in March) was laying off a large part of its staff, including many editors and the intrepid authors of its guides. Lonely Planet’s chief operating officer, Daniel Houghton, explained the cuts in an intra-company e-mail guaranteed to fill any writer with dread: “Authors are a critical part of the fabric of Lonely Planet… but we will take advantage of other content sources, such as community and social media, to build a content model that supports our entire business.”

News of the layoffs brought fears that the company, which (according to its Web site) currently sells five hundred titles covering a hundred and ninety-five countries, might cease commissioning new travel books altogether. Lonely Planet has dismissed these rumors as false, but the layoffs have prompted renewed discussion about the decline of traditional travel companions. (In recent years, travellers have relied increasingly on social networks, online forums, and travel sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia to get recommendations and tips; guidebooks sales declined by twenty-seven per cent between 2010 and 2012, according to Nielsen BookScan). Many people have been rallying behind Lonely Planet. Tattered, notated copies of old guidebooks can be as evocative as photographs or trinkets. They also maintain a practical importance: there remain locations, like remote villages and off-the-grid mountaintops, where travellers, lacking online resources, are still forced to rely on physical books.

No comments: