Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why Must Google Continue To Kill Things I Love?

First it was Google Reader and now this: Google purchased Frommer's (yay!) and has announced they are no longer publishing the guidebooks in print (boo!). I found this out thanks to the excellent Amateur Traveler Podcast.

This decision really hurts, as my travel guidebook of choice is Frommers. In fact, I just recently teased apart the fact that I prefer Frommers to Fodors, and was planning to never purchase the latter again if possible.

When I travel, I try to scale back what I bring as much as possible. I leave the full laptop at home, and carry a compact netbook. There were times when I traveled with multiple paperback books, and now I just rely on my cell phone to act as my eReader. I bring fewer clothes, and the minimum amount of camera and "office gear." But, I won't leave home without my guidebook, and if it at possible, I make it a Frommers.

A good guidebook has let me explore a city with almost no preparation, and when plans change it lets me quickly re-calibrate my itinerary on the fly with relative ease. It provides sane restaurant choices when the options are either too plentiful or too sparse. The books usually contain important customs worth knowing, and tips for getting around. When I leave my hotel room, the guide book comes with. Nearly every time I leave it at the hotel, I regret doing so.

I assume that Google will make the Frommer's content available electronically. In theory, I should be celebrating; one less item to carry! But I'm not. The print edition provides me with a few critical features:

  • Larger screen size. The open book allows for a much larger viewport than my cell phone screen.
  • Instant access. I can quickly open up the book to a bookmarked page versus clumsily trying to navigate my cell phone.
  • Infinite battery life. This is the main area the print book wins out on, it never needs to be recharged. After a long day of use, I don't have to worry that a dead battery will keep me from being able to use it (and say, find out how to get back to my hotel room).

If Google's plan is to somehow harvest the data from the Frommer's books and close down the brand, or equally pathetic, just stick to publishing basic eBook versions of their guides, then I'll remain unimpressed.

On the other hand, if Google can re-think and re-energize what a guidebook can be then they'll have my attention. If they can develop a user interface that is comfortable to use on a cell phone and is far more than a glorified PDF; if they can make the guidebook update itself on a continuous basis so the data is fresh and reliable (but do the update when plugged in at night, so it doesn't destroy battery usage); if the guidebook can be smart enough to customize itself as to how I use it (oh look, he wants to see nature related stuff, no problem, here you go) then this ceasing of print editions will be quite sensible. Better to leave dead-tree versions of guidebooks to publishers who can't bother to innovate.

Please Google, go the innovation route.

Update: Hurray! The Frommer's print edition is *not* going to be headed the way of the Dodo. It's been saved by its namesake. Now, if only Google could make a similar announcement about Google Reader my universe would return completely to normal.


  1. When you are carrying a $14USD travel guide with you... if you have an adventure and fall in a pond in Czechoslovakia, well you are out $14USD and life goes on. If it was your smartphone in your pocket, you lost your $14USD and then well a lot more, sounds painful, but of course life goes on, just seems more complicated in a way.

  2. Grant - that's another key advantage to the dead tree edition.

    I've got to know, are you speaking from experience? :-)

  3. You know the strategy. We've watched it together for years. Can you imagine the day they buy something like Netflix? They've got tens of billions in cash & equivalents on their balance sheet.

    "We'll organize the world's information. That which we can't access because of proprietary issues (like Zagat or Frommers), we'll just buy."

    Pubs like those and other very data-centric products are perfect for Google. They intertwine with the search results and are presented along with the facts.

    And now Google is testing same day delivery of Amazon-style goods in SF.

    They're not Skynet, but they're very close to being one of the most important organizations in the history of the world.