Lonely Planet Guidebooks – The End of an Era. But Where To From Here?

The old chestnut of the Internet killing the guidebook has probably been done to death by now, so I’m not really going to head down that path. Although I do have a few things to say about the end of an era over at Lonely Planet and how the guidebook has evolved and will continue to evolve in the coming years. In case you didn’t already know, Lonely Planet is now 100% owned by the BBC (although they’ve had full control of the company for the past 4 years), with the Wheelers selling their remaining 25% share a couple of weeks ago, back in mid February.

Our Guidebook CollectionAs a long suffering Dromomaniac, I feel the beloved guidebook (or in days gone by often referred to as just, ‘The Book’) has played a big part in my life.

Our bookshelves at home are literally filled to the brim with old guide and phrasebooks of the Lonely Planet brand. At times I feel Liza and I have a larger travel section than many small bookstores.

Whilst writing this article I though I may as well do a count on just how many Lonely Planet titles we actually posses at this current time. I was staggered to find that Liza and I currently have 54 Lonely Planet guidebooks gathering dust on our bookshelf.

A Personal Library of Lonely Planets Guide Books

The cost of these guidebooks (a few of which photographed above) have cost us a total of $1,324.00, and if you take into account inflation (some are nearing 20 years old), and also add in the books that we have either leant out, or ditched along the way due to weight constraints. We’ve probably donated somewhere in the vicinity of $2,000, to Tony and Maureen’s retirement fund.

Over the years I’ve almost always traveled with the Lonely Planet brand, but on occasions have also used couple of other different publishers. From the 1990 edition of the ‘Lets Go USA’, (the Let’s Go guidebooks were the original travel guide. Yes even before our beloved Lonely Planet), to the ‘India Handbook’ that Liza and I used during our trip through India many years ago.

However it’s always been Lonely Planet that I’ve felt most comfortable with, and is always the first book I’ve picked before heading to a new destination. As the Lonely Planet empire grows, I’ve seen the brand change dramatically over the last couple of decades. What used to be purely for the grungy backpacker or overlander, the books have now inevitably become mainstream and cover all facets of travel.

Some Lonely Planet Editions Will Be Forever Remembered

Over the years there have been many Lonely Planet editions that have their own unique history. From the South East Asian edition that has been blamed by some for the so called ‘Banana Pancake Trail’ throughout region, to the Africa on a Shoestring edition that was banned in the country of Malawi, after writer Geoff Crowther gave a bit of a spray to the incumbent President Banda.

A picture of Tony and Maureen Wheeler taken in 2008. Image credited to Rico Shen

Since the Wheelers sold their initial 75% stake in the company back in 2007, the BBC has taken Lonely Planet down a new road, and has began to bring the company into the digital era.

This change was definitely warranted, with the Internet covering many far reaching places on the globe, with its free flowing and easily accessible information.

Sooner or later the old fashioned paper guidebook will become instantly outdated (to be quite honest we’re nearly at that point now), and therefore less and less relevant to the modern traveler.

I do wonder where the company is now headed with their downloadable PDF versions, and of course their mobile applications. Lonely Planet seemed to come out of the blocks early with these new technologies, but in my view have now somewhat stalled with their development.

Where To From Here For Lonely Planet?

Things are moving so fast, that in the not to distant future Lonely Planet may loose control of the lion’s share of this new technology based guide book market. As the many small start-ups producing very specific online or application style guidebooks begin to gain in popularity.

Some are of the believe that the control Lonely Planet has had over the industry is akin to Microsoft in the early to mid nineties, but as we’ve seen with Microsoft. Monopolies in the world of technology don’t stay on top forever, and if your not moving forward, then you’re going backwards. Microsoft is now seen to be playing catch up with the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook.

My personal view is that over the coming years, Lonely Planet will loose a great deal of its influence and domination over the guide book industry. This will come about due to the vast number of smaller startups, that will fracture this market into specialty publications in the form of applications on smart phones and iPad like devices, that will be tailored to the individual travelers need. Last but not least, we can’t forget about the humble travel blog having a bit to say about the future of guide books. With many people following blogs on destinations they are soon to visit.

Your Thoughts and Comments?

As the Wheelers leave the industry (very wealthy I might add), I say thank you for the service you have provided over the years. To others reading this post, what do you believe will be the outcome of the industry? Do you have a small library of guidebooks gathering dust such as ours? Or do you think I’m wrong, and that Lonely Planet will continue its domination of the market?


   Subscribe via RSS

If you enjoyed this post then why don't you consider subscribing via RSS so you don't miss another post.

   Subscribe via Email

If you enjoyed this post then why don't you consider subscribing via Email and have my latest post delivered straight to your inbox.

     About the author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

More posts by Jason

Share This Article

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
  • http://www.acceleratedstall.com Acceleratedstall

    I’m not a book collector and prefer to download my info however, a friend is heading to Cambodia and Vietnam this summer and the first thing he did was purchase a Lonely Planet guide for each country. So I don’t think it’s the end, yet. :-)

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Maria, I can say that I’m definitely no book collector either, and was quite surprised to see how many Lonely Planets I actually own. At least half (or maybe more) are from the pre-internet era (mainstream internet era that is. say post 2000).

    I agree with you, that it’s not the end just yet, but I do believe there is a change coming. Just how fast I don’t know, but I do believe the guidebook as we know it, will go the way of the cassette tape, and the VHS video tape. Just like the 8 track and the reel to reel before those technologies.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your input.

  • http://twitter.com/OverYonderlust Erica Kuschel

    Lonely Planet has been such a good friend to Shaun and I on our previous travels to be honest. Now with the power of social media where it is now, I prefer to ask my peers in the travel industry for their opinions on where to go. Chances are that someone has been there and has a suggestion on where to stay or what to see.

  • http://twitter.com/thecandytrail MichaelRobertPowell

    I hear ya Jason. I, too, always liked the LP format best and don’t know how many I bought over the years as I never kept them – passed them on or used as emergency loo paper, etc. Still have one here in China now (as I did an earlier edition back in 1994) but e-books are less weight and easily updated and that’s where the future lies.

    the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ Andi Perullo

    What an interesting post! I’m a LP chic too!!! I hate to think about how much $ I’ve spent on them, but well they’ve been a good investment. I have them as decorations in my house now haha. I will be interested to see the evolution of guidebooks…

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Erica, I think a great portion of travelers over the last few decades have know and trusted Lonely Planet (although they have had a few shockers over the years). Going forward I foresee the impact of social media and the like on the guidebook industry to be quite influential.

    I agree that it’s easy for people to gain up to the minute details from blogs and social media, but I still think something is missing with this method. The need to collate the information and display it in an easy to read and find method. The times are a changing though. Thanks for your input.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Andi, I think that your onto something there. A good investment is a great way of looking at it. Not in the way of hoarding them over the years like I have done, but more in the way that you’ve gotten of a bus or train in some far away place.

    It’s 3.00am and your desperate for somewhere to sleep. How many times have you been in that situation, and you just whip out the old LP and more often than not your pointed in the right direction. The cost of the book is covered in that one action if you ask me. Thanks for your input.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Michael, As the perpetual wanderer Michael, I reckon you would’ve cleared a few acres in the Amazon with the books you’ve used over the years. At least you’ve done the right thing and handed them on. We’ve done that in a few situations, but most have come back on the plane with us, and are sitting on the book shelf.

    The ebooks are the future in some form or another, but I don’t think it’s in the form of PDF downloads of the old fashion guidebook. I know Lonely Planet is working on their application based versions as well, but as pointed out in the post, I think they’ve stalled a little with this format.

    I suppose where at a time like in the 70′s where Lonely Planet evolved into what it is today. I just wonder who will come out on top this time? Will it be the giant in Lonely Planet, or will the industry be fractured into many smaller and more personal methods??? Thanks for your input mate. You’ve definitely got a bit of authority when it comes to these maters.

  • http://twitter.com/SimOliver Simon Oliver

    Good post.

    I believe that in a few years all guide books will be a thing of the past – the kindle, iPod Touch, iPad and other similar devices will now line every backpacker & tourist’s luggage and all information will be on hand digitally.

    It’s all about weight when travelling. I’ll be showing my age when I say that I remember when we used to lug our TDK C-90 cassettes & Sony Walkmans around Asia and other parts.

    I think going digital will help LP and other firms initially as in most parts of the world the guides have been so pirated that only a few (when in country) would buy an original copy.

    Not a lot of people know how to download an e-book, PDF or app illegally and add it to their device so in this respect I am sure many will resort to buying the original release.

    Fair play to the Wheelers though.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Simon, Thanks for your comment mate, I reckon your spot on with pretty well everything you said. Don’t worry mate, you weren’t the only one lugging around a backpack full of C-90′s. I had plenty of them, and the used to take up so much space, I would have to leave behind other essentials, as the tapes were a must.

    That’s a good point you make about the copies of the guidebooks, and I think the new application world will put a sizable dent in that market in the future. I’m just not sure if it will be Lonely Planet that will stay in the position it sits at this particular time. They have started to make inroads into the digital guidebook, with offline maps and the like, but I believe they have stalled a little in this market.

    I just have a hunch there may be some new whiz bang technology just around the corner, that may somehow use all of the varied information on the net, and allow the user to pick and choose what they want and then wrap it all up in a single container to make for a neat and easily readable page to the reader. Then again maybe I’m dreaming….. Thanks for your input mate.

  • http://www.thelongestwayhome.com Dave from The Longest Way Home

    As much as I knock LP, I also enjoy their books better than many of the others. The maps are generally better than other books, and this to me is important.

    Accommodation, I use LP recommendations as a last resort, or if there is nothing online about a town.

    I only used their food reviews once, as treat, otherwise it’s generally out of my budget.

    The PDF’s I tried. And although the concept is good. The practicality is not in terms of printing. But the time you’ve bought the pdf, and then found a place that will print out on both sides of a page, it ends up costing you more than than the book. Though not nearly as much as the faded fakes out there.

    Which, I might add helped me much more in India and Pakistan than the real book.

    Granted things like ipads and the like will help in this regards. But, you can’t fold up an ipad, or help it survive a journey for several days with bad or no electricity in Norther Pakistan etc.

    So yes, lot of good point to be made here. Will LP continue it’s domination …. yes, as you so very well put it, LP is the Microsoft of guide books.

    That said, wiki travel has a lot to offer up for free these days. I think when the right portable device comes along, or batteries can keep on going, then it will falter LP.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Dave, All valid points you make there, and I agree with the use of Lonely Planet maps. I myself have relied heavily on these over the years when arriving at a destination that is somewhat off the beaten track a little.

    Although of late I have traveled with an iPad, I have never really used Lonely Planet PDF downloadable chapters. I am sort of looking for something a little more when using an electronic device. The use of GPS and offline maps is the way to go here, but there is much work to be done by all involved until they become the norm.

    I understand your point in relation to iPads and the like undertaking tough journeys, but down the track I believe they will be the first thing packed for any trip abroad. I haven’t done any real tough journeys with an iPad although ours did survive a double roll over in a 4WD so I suppose that’s a good selling point.

    The electricity is also a good point, but I the battery life of the iPad is already quite good (approx 10 hours of video playback) and I only see this improving over time. We do also have a solar charger, that seems to work quite well as well and we tested this in Madagascar last year.

    Going forward, I am not so sure on where Lonely Planet will end up. My reference to Microsoft was that they were the only name in town a few years back, and in my view are beginning to struggle a little as the technological world moves forward. There still a big player (due to runs they have on the board from previous years), but are losing ground to other big tech names quite quickly.

    I suppose time will have the answer, and we’re all just guessing (makes for a good conversation though). I think the real change will come when it’s just the Gen Y’s and beyond you are traveling the world and they will just come to expect these latest technologies as the norm.

    As people can see by the amount I have spent on Lonely Planet guidebooks over the years, I like the brand and hope they continue to do well, I’m just not so sure they will have such a stranglehold on the market in years to come.

    Thanks for your comment mate, I like a good discussion such as this…

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Craig, Thanks for the link mate. I didn’t know this was available, so I will check it out.

  • http://twitter.com/retrotraveller retrotraveller

    Interesting post… regarding the LP maps. Gotta love Lonely Planet guides… they can be a bit bulky though. You mention the maps – they are usually very good.

    The town and city ones are great for useful for finding the must see sights.

    What I usually do though is photograph the maps on my mobile or more often, on my camera – then I don’t have to carry the book around!

    If I get a bit lost – check map on camera, zooming, rotating if needed. I always carry a compact – so I always have the map. When I move on I just delete the map…

  • http://dosomethingcool.net Steve

    I love Lonely Planet guidebooks. I know they are all about the same as far as quality goes, but I tend to go with them if I have a choice. I usually just get my guidebooks from the library before I go because it saves me money in the long term.

    I think the guidebook industry might have their profits hurt in the future. I imagine most guidebooks will become obsolete as smart phones and apps become more widespread. Just watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpmAyen4sv0&feature=related to see some of what to expect. Imagine waving your phone in front of a restaurant or hostel and seeing the latest reviews for it. Or you can put your phone over a monument you might not recognize and it will tell you instantly what it is. And since a large part of this information is free on the internet already, you might only need to pay for the app. But of course this is still speculation. The future is still wide open.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Steve, Thanks for the You-Tube link mate. Augmented Reality is something I forgot to mention and as I love my technology I’m very aware of it’s power and use in the travel industry. I suppose though that, technologies such as this to create well, require bigger budgets and this may help the case of Lonely Planet going forward.

    They started along the lines of their new application guidebooks, but somewhat stalled, with their development of late. Maybe there’s something bi in the pipeline with them, who knows?

    I can’t wait to see how this whole thing plays out in the future thought. Thanks for your comment mate.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Johnathan, Thanks for your input mate. I like the idea of taking a photo of the map on your phone. I’ve seen this done before, but not in travel, but in my line of work, that being construction. I see young people take photos of drawings, so they have them with them in their pockets at all times. Same theory behind it though.

    The Lonely Planet maps over the years have been of great value to myself, and without them I would have been stuck in a few places over the years. I actually remember many years ago, using a Lonely Planet map of an Iranian city and the sun to guide me back to my hotel, as there was no one around to help me. Thanks for your comment mate.

  • http://www.aaronswwadventures.com Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures

    I too have a shelf full of well-worn LP guidebooks that I’ve acquired over the years. Still the first thing I do when I’m exploring possibilities for travel is to head to the bookstore and browse through an LP book. It’s still, in my mind, the best option for initial research. But whereas before, I was keen to keep my nose in LP book and take all their suggestions, as I become more of a seasoned traveler, I am far more likely to give a quick glance in the old LP for acommodation suggestions if I have made no earlier plans or haven’t found something I like on my own. For my next trip, my plan is to go guidebook-less. We’ll see how that works out…

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Arron, I think you and I are of the same era, or generation of traveler. We both use the Lonely Planet guide books in the same way, and the more accustomed you come to traveling the less detail you require. It’s just the small little pieces of information, or maps ect that I really use my Lonely Planet guidebooks for.

    I do think it will be interesting when the next generation of traveler comes about and how they will use the information put before them. Will they still need guide books, or will they soley use electronic media whilst traveling? Time will tell, but I know I’m not sold just yet as I just bought another Lonely Planet for an up and coming trip to Samoa. Thanks for your comment mate.

  • http://suitcasescribbles.com/ Vanessa

    I’ve actually never bought a guide book. I’ve gone to libraries and looked through them for general ideas, then just used the internet to do the specific research on a destination. They really are a great & comprehensive starting point, but I’ve never felt the need to purchase them. Though I can see how people would find the continent based ones (Europe, Asia) useful on an extended trip for the region.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Hey Vanessa, I think you’ve got a good point there. Researching on the internet for a shorter trip is allot easier than researching a trip of a longer duration. You know where you want to go and what you want to do. This is quite different to an extended trip where most of the time you’re not sure where your heading next or for how long.

    I also find that the further off the beaten track you go, the more difficult it is to find valuable information on the net as well. It’s all out there, but finding it can be difficult. Thanks for stopping by.