Frommer’s travel guides coming back to life
Pioneering guidebook writer Arthur Frommer revives his books
The New York Times
When Google bought the Frommer’s brand of travel guides last August, it was an unlikely union of old and new, of paper and pixels.
It didn’t last long.
Arthur Frommer, the 83-year-old founder of the company, announced in April that he had bought the brand back from Google, which did not publish any Frommer’s guidebooks.
Now he is moving quickly to release his first batch of books in October under a new name, FrommerMedia.
In an interview, Frommer said he had struck a deal with Publishers Group West, a member of the Perseus Books Group, to distribute and help market and promote the books, a major step in reviving the publishing machine of one of the most renowned brands in the travel industry.
“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” Frommer said Friday. “I’m working hard to bring them back to what they were.”
Frommer, often considered the father of the travel-guide business, wrote and published his first guide, “The G.I.’s Guide to Traveling in Europe,” when he was a young Army corporal living in Berlin.
That guide, turned into a book called “Europe on $5 a Day,” became a huge success. Several years later, after a brief career practicing law, Frommer began publishing more travel books, building a business to be a leader in the industry. For many years, Frommer said, the Frommer’s books made up close to 25 percent of all the travel guides sold in the United States.
He has not had direct control over the Frommer’s guides for decades. In 1977, Frommer’s was sold to Simon & Schuster and later acquired by John Wiley & Sons. (Frommer remained involved as a consultant.) Last year, Google paid about $23 million for the brand, saying that it would incorporate the Frommer’s content from its books, mobile apps and website into local reviews. This year, it sold the company back to Frommer for an undisclosed price.
By the end of 2014, Frommer expects to release as many as 80 books. Frommer and his daughter, Pauline, will be co-presidents of the company. A new series, called EasyGuides, are an answer to the increasingly lengthy travel guides on the market that Frommer said were too long to be practical.
The Frommers are restarting the publication of the guides at a difficult time in the travel-book business. Sales of travel guides have been in decline for years, publishers said, under pressure from free websites like TripAdvisor, VirtualTourist and Yelp.
“There’s the availability of free information on the Internet, and there’s the fewer number of brick-and-mortar stores,” said David Steinberger, the chief executive of Perseus Books Group. “But you can still have a very successful business if you have the right brand and the right content.”
Travel guides have also failed to pick up the e-book sales that could compensate for print losses; reference books are still lagging far behind most other categories, especially fiction, in e-book sales.
Frommer said he believed that in a time in which user-generated content is pervasive, there is also a demand for carefully edited information by a trusted source.
“I think there’s been a reaction to the user generation source of travel information,” he said. Most of the newly issued Frommer’s guides will be written by freelancers who live in the cities they are reviewing — unlike online reviews elsewhere, which might be written by “people who have been to one hotel in Paris in their lives.”