Dorling Kindersley (DK) has agreed terms to sell leading travel publisher Rough Guides to APA Publications for an undisclosed sum.
DK is beginning consultation with its 30 staff who work on Rough Guides following the move, according to a statement released by Penguin Random House. However, DK confirmed that publishing director for Travel, Georgina Dee, will remain at DK.
Chief executive René Frey told The Bookseller that APA Publications had "agreed to take the whole team" from Rough Guides and, when it is in charge, it will then review how they will fit in.
Ian Hudson, DK c.e.o., said the decision had been made after a "wide-ranging travel publishing review".
"...We believe that the future success of Rough Guides will be best secured with APA Publications," he said.
APA is the publisher of Insight Guides and Berlitz and has over 700 publications targeting "well-informed global travellers", with licensing agreements covering 20 territories. Agnieszka Mizak recently stepped into the role of managing director on 1st July 2017, reporting to c.e.o. René Frey, at which point it also strengthened its sales and marketing team.
Frey called the acquisition a "great opportunity" for APA Publications of which it was already "very proud". He said it would act as the "perfect enhancement" to its current offering - Insight Guides are a stronger brand in Asia while Rough Guides is stronger in the UK, and the biggest brand it will have in terms of online reach, he said.
Although specific plans for the brand are currently "too early to say", and "a big challenge" laid ahead in terms of its integration over the next 12 months, the ambition is to "continue writing the history of Rough Guides", he said.
"What we intend to do, we have not fully planned, but we know the strategic idea makes a lot of sense and we are confident we can integrate the team quickly to run the business to keep it alive," he said.
As well as acquiring Rough Guides' "great brand" and books, he said APA Publications was hoping to secure the "talented team" behind Rough Guides' online presence that helped make it so successful.
Rough Guides has been publishing travel guidebooks for the past 35 years. Founded by Mark Ellingham and Martin Dunford in 1981, the first Rough Guide (to Greece) published in 1982, spawning a series of books that quickly covered destinations all over the world. Today Rough Guides publishes guidebooks on more than 120 worldwide destinations and dictionary phrasebooks for 18 languages. Its first podcast, "The Rough Guide to Everywhere", launched at the start of this year featuring guests including Ruby Wax, Dervla Murphy and Meik Wiking in conversation.
DK is selling Rough Guides at a time its travel publishing business, including brands such as Eyewitness, is down by 6% for the year to date to £4.44m in value and 8.88% down in volume to 449,980 books sold, according to Nielsen BookScan. The division has seen steady sales for the last five years, up 5% in 2014 and with boosts of 2-3% over the last couple of years. However, 2017 has seen sales plunge back down to 2013 levels, its lowest-selling full year on record post-2002.
APA-owned Berlitz on the other hand has been in decline for the last four years, slumping below 100,000 books sold for the year to date (98,560 copies), a 6.3% drop in volume, and at £587,786, a 6.5% drop in value. Meanwhile Insight Publishing Group’s travel guides sold 96,811 copies in 2016 for £981,858—an improvement on the three years before. For the year to date, it’s made £636,000 through the travel guides category, a year-on-year jump of 10% in value and sold 66,523 books, a 17% jump in volume.
Commenting on the news, Tony Maher, m.d. for Stanfords, welcomed the change in ownership, predicting "renewed energy" - and perhaps, as a result, sales - for both DK and Rough Guides. “I think that this should be seen as fairly good news for Travel Publishing," he said. "I always felt that the marriage of Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides and Rough Guides was a strange one – so to see them separate should result in renewed energy on both fronts – which, hopefully, will see an increase in sales.”
The travel guide market itself, which has been steadily declining between 2007 and 2014 , saw two second consecutive years of growth in 2015 and 2016. However, for the year to date volume was 1.3% down to 2.089 million books sold and value was flat at 0.03% down, worth £21.6m.
Both the Rough Guides original founders have already left the company. Ellingham departed in 2007 after 25 years to join independent publisher Profile Books, and Dunford left just a few years later in 2010 to focus on the digital travel world, subsequently becoming managing director of Cool Places.
Frey, APA Publications c.e.o., added: “I am delighted to confirm that we have agreed terms to acquire Rough Guides Limited from DK. Rough Guides is a leading travel guide brand, publishing award-winning guidebooks and a highly engaging consumer website, roughguides.com. It is a perfect fit for us and represents a significant expansion of our travel portfolio.”
Hudson added: "We are very proud of all that Rough Guides and its highly talented team of travel experts have achieved over the years.”