Over the past past year, there’s been a lot of musing among travelers and in the travel industry about whether the day of the printed travel guide is over, in the face of vast stores of on-line information and smartphone apps.
Certainly some people are betting against it—Google, which bought and then dumped Frommers.com and the Frommer’s guidebook line, for one. BBC sold Lonely Planet to a reclusive millionaire at a loss of over $100 million. And many of the remaining publishers have been either cutting back the number of offerings or concentrating on online guides and apps.
But the reports of the industry’s death may be premature. Frommer’s, now back in the hands of Arthur (who practically invented the mass guidebook category) and Pauline Frommer, is betting there’s a future in guidebooks that both look forward at what other resources are available and back to the fundamentals of what a guidebook does.
By that, I mean that a good guidebook provides a general background about a city or country or region, providing an overall view that enables travelers to flesh out a trip with additional information from online sources—often provided by the same publisher. That’s an important role, because there is so much information available on the web, and so much of it is pitching or selling particular products or ideas, that no novice traveler—and probably not many experienced ones—can make real sense of it without help.
The new Frommer series, published as “Arthur Frommer’s EasyGuides” (although edited by Pauline Frommer) are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than most have been lately. I’m sitting here with three recent Frommer Guides, the latter two both written by Margie Rynn, an American in Paris:
- Paris 2010, 424 pages, lots of color pictures, heavy paper, and $19.99
- Pauline Frommer’s Paris: spend less see more, 365 pages, $16.99
- And the brand-new EasyGuide to Paris 2014, 256 pages, no color pictures, $10.95
The books are all the same size, varying only in thickness and weight. And it is a big difference; the 2010 Paris weighs nearly twice as much as the EasyGuide. I’ve pretty much given up carrying guidebooks; I use them for research before going and compile my own notes, but this one is pocketable, and will make the next trip with me.
Another important aspect of the new series—and one that’s clearly important in the Frommers’ plans, is a return to emphasizing budget options. Over the Wiley years, the Frommer books seemed further and further away from the original $5-a-day-everyone-can-travel concept. Pauline Frommer’s previous series placed more emphasis on the less-well-heeled, and the new books carry on that tradition. The Paris 2010 book’s shopping section focuses on high-end fashion, cosmetics and antiques; the new book has some of the same boutiques—but it also has a reasonably comprehensive to affordable chain fashion stores. The restaurant selections also follow the pattern; compared to the older book, there are far more inexpensive and moderate restaurants listed.
Despite its smaller size, the new book doesn’t seem to slight any category; it has up-to-date information on clubs and bars, hotels and restaurants (although it missed some of my favorites). Some of the best information is in useful shaded boxes sprinkled throughout the book—in the music section, a pullout on concerts in churches; in the shopping section a quick summary of what the different affordable chains carry; a quick advice piece on kids in restaurants including a list of kid-friendly restaurants, and so forth. For those used to an index in the back: Don't make my mistake and think there's none--it's integrated with the chapter headings at the front.
My general feel is that it is written in a lighter tone and with tighter editing—omitting extra words rather than any information. It will be useful to me (and I’ve been to Paris 7 or 8 times) and it would be the first book I’d offer a friend going for the first time. If the rest of the series lives up to this standard, guidebooks will be around a long time yet.