BBC takes guide back to books

<p>Another week, another remarkable piece of publishing news. Following hot on the heels of Richard Charkin's surprise <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/45794-charkin-quits-macmillan-for-bloo... to Bloomsbury</a>, comes BBC Worldwide's <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/45879-bbc-acquires-lonely-planet.html"... &pound;100m deal for Lonely Planet</a>.<br />
<br />
Founded in 1972 by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet made its name as a travel-guide publisher, but the BBC deal is about considerably more than its books. BBC Worldwide actually <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/30614-random-house-takes-bbc-stake.htm... out of book publishing a year ago</a>, so why is it going back in? As both sides were quick to point out the <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/45891-bbcs-digital-push-at-lonely-plan... is all about how the web is shaping the travel business</a>.</p>
<p>&quot;The business is no longer just about guidebooks,&quot; Tony Wheeler <a href="http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/columnists/article2570471... the Times</a>. &quot;The digital side will at some point be larger than the print side.&quot; Stephen Palmer, Lonely Planet's chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said that the firm hoped to gain from BBC Worldwide's internet expertise.</p>
<p>This makes sense. Travel guide publishing is one of the more likely book publishing sectors to suffer when the trade finally faces its iPod moment. The web has already blown a hole in the mapping market, and viable electronic versions of guidebooks cannot be far away.</p>
<p>The market is certainly shifting&mdash;downwards. In the <a href="http://cde.cerosmedia.com/1S46a0c5a719ff2012.cde">Travel Bookseller</a>, published in July, Tom Holman noted: &quot;Sales recorded in Nielsen BookScan&rsquo;s atlases, maps and travel product class were worth &pound;41.6m in the first 22 weeks of 2007, down 4.8% on the same period in 2006&mdash;a year in&nbsp; which sales fell 2% over the full 12&nbsp; months. Coming on the back of a&nbsp; 5.6% slip in sales in 2005, it emphasises that these are challenging times for travel publishers.&quot;</p>
<p>Yet people are travelling more, not less: &quot;In fact, the British Airports Authority says its members carried 57 million passengers between January and May this year, up 0.8% on 2006.&quot;</p>
<p>It was in the context of these market conditions that earlier this year rumours first began circulating that the founders Maureen and Tony Wheeler were looking for buyers. At the time, they said they had &quot;<a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/38854-lonely-planet-denies-sale-rumour... intention of selling out</a>&quot;, but admitted that they were looking for investment. &quot;Tony and I decided almost 18 months ago that in order for LP to reach its full potential in the online/digital world we needed more investment,&quot; wrote Maureen Wheeler to staff.</p>
<p>It will be interesting to see how the deal plays out among rival travel guide publishers. The BBC earlier this year <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c10d44b4-259e-11dc-b338-000b5df10621.html ">set out plans to grow its commercial wing while making its connections with the licence-fee funded BBC transparent</a>. But this followed the forced suspension of its &pound;150m website for young learners in March after private education publishers complained that the free material it provided undermined their business.</p>
<p>It is difficult to see how this move will not run into similar criticism. <a href="http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/ar... MP has already publicly questioned why the corporation needs to own a privately-owned publisher</a>: &ldquo;Why should the BBC effectively nationalise a publisher? Where do its commercial activities stop?&rdquo;</p>
<p>According to the FT, <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/217316e8-700a-11dc-a6d1-0000779fd2ac.html">BBC Worldwide intends to use the brand to develop a social network for travellers</a>, something Lonely Planet has already begun with its YouTube imitation <a href="http://www.lonelyplanet.tv">lonelyplanet.tv</a>. But the Lonely Planet website does not exist in a vacuum and any upgrade instigated by the BBC is likely to impact rival publishers. The BBC may offer rivals access to its content, but they will not have ready access to its web-expertise or technical know-how.</p>
<p>The difficulty BBC Worldwide will have is convincing outsiders that it is keeping its publicly-funded parent at a distance. You only have to witness the utterancies from both sides to see that confusion already exists. &quot;The digital side isn&rsquo;t our bag as much,&quot; Tony Wheeler is reported to have said in the Times. &quot;We thought if we were going to do it properly, we had to do it with someone else and the BBC popped up.&quot;</p>
<p>The slip more than hints at what many will think. BBC Worldwide may have sales of &pound;800m and run decent websites such as <a href="http://www.radiotimes.com">radiotimes.com</a> and <a href="http://www.topgear.com">topgear.com</a>, but is clearly the BBC that provides the magic. As Lonely Planet's <a href="http://www.lonelyplanet.com/blogs/travel_blog/2007/10/lonely-planet-is-a... blog</a> puts it: &quot;The BBC is known for editorial independence and getting to every corner of the globe, things we like.&quot; Its rivals may not be so keen.</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>You can hear what the founders have to say by clicking the video link below:</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><embed width="366" height="315" wmode="transparent" src="http://www.lonelyplanet.tv/player.swf?key=9266D9FA7CA5873E"></embed></p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>