Lonely Planet's is shedding about one-third of its editorial staff in a restructuring effort, and the decision has many wondering what the move means for the future of of guide books, and of travel writing.
The Melbourne-based company, founded in the 1970s by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, grew into one of the most trusted guide book series, an integral part of any backpacker's journey. Over the last 40 years the company sold 120 million books. It currently sells 500 titles covering 195 countries.
The decision came a few months after Lonely Planet was sold from BBC Worldwide to NC2 of Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this year. Daniel Houghton, NC2's 24-year-old COO, expressed plans to bring together "the world's greatest travel information and guide book company with the limitless potential of 21st century digital technology."
Yet some remained skeptical, particularly in light of the significant loss of editorial positions. “No user-generated content…can compete with the context and cumulative knowledge that the Lonely Planet library has,” says writer and videographer Robert Reid, Lonely Planet's spokesperson until earlier this year.
In recent years guide books have faced competition from sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia, though as Lonely Planet writer Zora O'Neill argues, “Any dope on TripAdvisor can say something's 'the best,' but only Lonely Planet authors have visited 25 hotels and can honestly use the superlative like that.”
If the immensely popular Lonely Planet, which in many ways was ahead of the digital curve when it launched its website in 1995, cannot stay afloat in the digital age, what will guide books, and travel writing, look like in the future?
Photo: Lonely Planet