/ Motoring

Is it the end of the road for paper guidebooks?

A stack of travel guidebooks with a map in the background

Guidebooks are like a faithful companion you can rely on to give you advice you can trust. But with the rise in digital ebooks and mobile apps, will you change the way you read guidebooks in the future?

Guidebooks have been on holidaymakers’ checklists for years, but sales are on the decline. In fact, a survey in 2012 revealed that guidebook sales have dropped by almost 40% in the last five years.

In contrast, the digital revolution has taken the publishing world by storm, as Amazon reported last summer that Kindle ebook sales had actually overtaken their print sales. And let’s not forget mobile apps. With a host of travel guides available to download directly to your smartphone or tablet device, it’s possible to get up-to-date and even real-time location information at the touch of a button.

Journey’s end for the humble guidebook?

There’s no denying the appeal of the ebook reader for holidaymakers. They allow you to travel with more books than you could possibly read packed into a device of similar weight and size to a typical paperback book. But for me they have their drawbacks when it comes to guidebooks.

I love the simplicity of the traditional printed guidebook and the speed at which I can access the information I want. I also don’t have to treat it with too much care when it’s whipped in and out of my rucksack multiple times a day and even caught in the odd rain shower. And most importantly for me, I don’t need to worry about dropping or losing my printed guidebook, or even having it stolen.

I have similar issues with mobile apps. Again I can see the advantages, especially when it comes to getting up-to-date info. Some apps helpfully use your current location to get information about tourist sites, restaurants and hotels close to where you are.

Yet the drawbacks for me remain the same when it comes to security, loss and damage. Not to mention the additional worry about how much of a bill I might be racking up while using the 3G on my phone or iPad to access information remotely via the internet.

Guidebook fans still out there

It seems I’m not the only one who isn’t ready to give up on the printed guidebook just yet. We ran a guidebooks survey to find the top guidebook brands and found that nearly six in ten (59%) people had bought and used a printed guidebook in the last year, while only 8% had downloaded a travel guide app and 6% an ebook.

While I think there is a place for modern technology to enhance the travel world, I still feel print titles have their place. Do you think the printed guidebook has had its day? Would you rather travel with a paper guidebook or use an ebook reader, smartphone or tablet?

Do you still use paper guidebooks when you travel?

Yes, I use a paper guidebook (60%, 200 Votes)

Yes, I use a paper guidebook and travel apps (23%, 75 Votes)

No, I don't use any sort of guidebook (12%, 41 Votes)

No, I use travel apps or ebooks instead (5%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 336

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Comments
Member

I could vote for most of the options in the poll but it does seem that there needs to be a clarification between travelling in the UK and countries where it is more difficult. By more difficult I mean language, wi-fi,coverage, wi-fi cost, and charging any device.

In the UK we are happy to rely on a smart phone for information on the locality etc. We also always have a UK mapbook. If staying for a long period in a locale I would also probably be tempted to download information from Wikipedia and other sources to my 10″ Boox e-reader as it exceedingly easy to read and maps make sense.

Travelling abroad also needs to be split. If I travel by cruise liner from the UK my baggage allowance is 100lbs er person so taking multiple travel books is no problem. If I go camping weight and bulk make a huge difference in what I am prepared to pack.

In any event my Boox would be brought along as it’s battery life, as for most dedicated readers, is hugely better than a smart phone. Currently on my Boox I have many items relating to our visit to Canada including all the Wikipedia articles for the ports and Provinces we were to visit. I even have the yearly docking schedules for several ports and even the various costs to a cruise ship docking.

There is also Wikitravel which is very up-to-date, free and aimed directly at tourists. It of course like any Wiki has to have a grain of salt added as a particular contributor may have different life experiences and interests : )

Vote may be more a reflection of type of travel rather than anything else.

Member

You led me to believe in your Which Update (‘But which leads up our polls – print guidebooks, ebooks or mobile apps?’) that you have already held a survey to determine which of them leads your polls. When I clicked on ‘print guidebooks, ebooks or mobile apps?’ as I was invited to do, I was expecting to get the answer, not to be asked for my preferences.
There are other ways of asking for help with your polls. Please use them.

Member

Hello Mia, thanks for the comment. The results of our survey are included in the post. Here they are if you missed it:

‘We ran a guidebooks survey to find the top guidebook brands and found that nearly six in ten (59%) people had bought and used a printed guidebook in the last year, while only 8% had downloaded a travel guide app and 6% an ebook.’

We just thought we’d ask our community members on Which? Conversation what they think as well.

Member

“By the end of this year, sales of printed travel guides will have fallen by around 40% in the UK and US since the 2005 peak. In 2005 the average unit sale of the top 100 international travel guides was 9,372; in 2011 it was 6,199. The best selling international guide from a major publisher sold 21,028 in 2005; 10,201 in 2011.” Guardian article quoted by Which?

So it is all rather small beer here if the total sales are, and it is not clear from the article, the combined UK and US sales are 62,000. If we make the assumption the journalist means it is UK only then Which? readers are exceptionally well represented by buying 1500 copies.

What remains unanswered is whether the remaining 40% were the ones who bought the apps etc or are included in the 59%. And if you did not buy a travel book in the last 12 months but borrowed from a library or a friend are you represented or ignored in the survey?

Is it possible to for members to review the original survey to see how it was constructed?

Member

Hello dieseltaylor

Thanks for your post. Just to give you a bit more information on the survey itself. The questionnaire was pretty simple in its construction, asking members if they had bought and used a print guidebook, downloaded a travel guide app for their mobile, iPad or tablet, or bought and used a digital guidebook (eBook) in the last year.

Our research showed that 59% of people who responded to the survey had bought and used a print guidebook, 8% had downloaded a travel guide app for their mobile, iPad or tablet, and 6% bought and used a digital guidebook (eBook).

The guidebooks are rated on a number of factors including how up-to-date the information is. For this reason we asked members to only rate guidebooks bought in the last 12 months so that, as far as possible, the survey would include the most recent titles from each publisher.

The plan is to make this an annual survey so we can track future changes in buying behavior and report back.

Member

“The questionnaire was pretty simple in its construction, asking members if they had bought and used a print guidebook, downloaded a travel guide app for their mobile, iPad or tablet, or bought and used a digital guidebook (eBook) in the last year. ”

Thank you for your reply Kate. I must admit I am still unclear on whether your questions were either or. For instance looking at the above poll I have no way of saying I bought an app, an e-book and a paperback. And no way to say I downloaded a free e-travel guide.

“The guidebooks are rated on a number of factors including how up-to-date the information is. For this reason we asked members to only rate guidebooks bought in the last 12 months so that, as far as possible, the survey would include the most recent titles from each publisher.

The plan is to make this an annual survey so we can track future changes in buying behavior and report back.”

Whilst I understand what you are doing I am not sure the depth of your survey means you can make any claims as to how much guide books are used and is more a snapshot of buying behaviours.

Unhappily for some countries there are few travel guides and because of supply and demand they are not up-dated frequently. I note that for Sweden Lonely Planet up-dates every three years. In a comment on one guide it seems up-dating is not very thorough anyway.:
” Aug 2011, Brigitte Tenni,
Skarholmen flea market; This flea market is listed as being in the car park of the
Skarholmen Centrum however I looked for quite some time and couldn’t find itafter
asking a few people I finally discovered that this market had moved about 5
years ago to Varberg which is the next station out from Stockholm. It is in the
basement of the square directly in front of the exit to Varberg station- according to
the stall holders the market is similar but smaller to the original version.”
The version she was using was 2010.!

Where the survey readers asked to provide any instances of major misinformation?

Member

I trust it’s not the end. I always buy an Eyewitness guide book before setting off to a new place. Not only is it convenient and accessible on holiday, but it’s a nice reminder of places I’ve either been, or might have gone to if more time was available. What is £10 for a guide book, when a poor meal or uninteresting day trip could cost awful lot more than that?

And I don’t see a program called “Great British [Continental] Railway Journeys” being made in 100 years’ time based on some app. Although I’m not anti-computer, the short term persistency of today’s digital information is going to leave a hole in the record of early 21st century culture. The term “disposable society” isn’t confined to material goods, but everything we do and know (including this conversation on Which?).

Member
lambourne says:
5 January 2013

When asked if I use an ereader on my travels I always answer that it is useful in terms of size, weight, bulk etc. but yet another thing I would need to worry about being stolen (are books usually stolen – I think not), you can’t make a note in the margin of useful info etc, swap in hotel book swaps and in desperation pages cannot be torn out to use as loo paper!