I happened upon a discussion on BBC Radio Four last week.  The question was ” In the era of the Internet, are guide books still relevent?”.

The pundit that I heard made a very interesting point.  Well, I found it interesting because it was a reality that I find myself highlighting all the time.  She said that printed guides would always be relevent because they do something that an on-line equivalent could never do.  Her point was that a traveller sitting on a train with a Lonely Planet guide (for example) instantly becomes a member of a community of Lonely Planet travellers.  The guide itself is a badge of belonging in a way that a computer or even a hand-held device could never be and in an alien environment, however fascinating and enjoyable that might be, the reassurance of belonging is even more attractive.

As someone who has travelled a bit I have first-hand experience of this.  Just carrying a guide-book in an exotic place is a license for other travellers to strike up a conversation.  Even the different publishers of the guides represent sub-communities – you can find that you become either a Lonely Planet or a Rough Guide member according to the guide-book that you carry and I guess there is even a hierarchy.

I’ve recently been involved in a debate over whether being a member of a LinkedIn group is an excuse for other members, whatever their reason for belonging, to send you unsolicited e-mail.  This is an off-line equivalent.  I even had a friend who, years ago, followed a girl who took his eye into a bookshop on Charing Cross Road (They’d call it stalking these days!).  She made for the travel section and after a little browsing bought a guide to Thailand.  He did the same and then followed her to the cash desk where he engineered one of those “fancy that” moments.  To cut a long story short, they ended up going to Thailand together, although, as many partners who go on holiday together, they came back with a mutual loathing!   Personally I have never been put-out by the unsolicited approaches of strange travellers on public transport, although I could imagine, in certain circumstances that I might be, but I am annoyed by e-mail spammers disguised as fellow network members.  Now I think about it a woman on the London to Warwick train a few months ago struck up a conversation with me on the basis of a Lee Child book I was reading. She presented herself as a fellow Jack Reacher fan, which seems to have become another brand community in recent years.  I suppose there could me a moral there – if you want to date buy a book!

Back to the guide books though, the badge thing definitely doesn’t only work while you are travelling.  How often have you turned up at someone’s home and found a bookshelf full of matching guidebooks?  OK, so maybe its just the company I keep.  We’ve also seen the guide-book brands being leveraged to create TV travel programmes, luggage and travel accessories.  Yes, every brand is a community and this guide-book thing has taken my interest.  I must add it to my presentations on brand development in the future, as an example of a brand type, alongside religion, football teams and pop groups.

Michael Weaver
August 17, 2010

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