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On Frommer’s, Google, and Print Travel Guides

March 27, 2013

At this point, it’s safe to say that I’ve been converted to the way of the ebook (though it remains an alternate method of reading for me: viable, not preferred). Ebooks are great.

But let me qualify that. Ebooks are great–for fiction, memoir, and other types of books you want to read straight through. E-textbooks? Not as popular, and deservedly so, I think. There’s something about flipping desultorily through a book’s various sections, hoping a familiar header will jog your memory, that e-readers haven’t quite captured. Certainly not my second-gen e-Ink Kindle with its clumsy hardware keyboard.

Which is only one of the reasons I was unhappy to hear about Google’s Frommer’s announcement last week. Effective immediately, Frommer’s travel guides will no longer be appearing in print.

The erstwhile cover of Frommer’s New York City with Kids, the first title to get the print axe (source).

This seems exceptionally counterintuitive for a line of travel guides, which are probably the very last kind of book I’d ever want in e-form. You might say ebooks are great for travel, if by “travel” you mean having a library of books with you on the airplane without having to lug them around in print form.

But when it comes to a travel guide, I’d rather lug around a marked-up print book than an e-reader, for the same reason travelers are told to be extra careful with the rest of their electronics.

I could see an argument for digital travel guides that behave more like full-featured apps than typical ebooks. Something that could include GPS, interactive itineraries, reviews, and recommendations tailored for your current location in London, Tokyo, Cairo. An app that did all of these things, and well, would be a great iPad-based trip utility.

But add any Internet-dependent features, and you run into the problem of data access. I’m not going to pay steep fees for international data roaming on my smartphone or tablet, but I don’t want to spend my time in Vacation Destination X hunting for wi-fi, either. And believe it or not, Google, there are places in the world–in the US, even–where wi-fi and 3G data service just don’t exist.

So what does a digital-only travel guide add, exactly? Maybe a few cubic inches of luggage space.

I’m disappointed to see Google move in this direction with Frommer’s. Thankfully for me–sadly for Frommer’s–there are plenty of other, decidedly more papery places to go.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 9, 2013 8:48 AM

    That is definitely one of the worst ideas ever. Sure, maybe an ipad version would be acceptable, but the print form can’t be beaten. I always travel with a book, and to look at my shelves, you can tell that they’ve seen a lot: corners are dog-eared, sections are highlighted, promising restaurants starred and circled on maps, whole parts have been ripped out, all things you can’t do with a digital copy. Furthermore, the sand falling form the pages, curry stains, water wrinkles, &c. prove that they’ve all been places that you probably don’t want your electronics to be either. Not to mention sometimes electricity is just a luxury you won’t have access too…

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