WH Smith do you a favour by only stocking two travel guides

5 June 2009

There's such a thing as too much choice. This rule doesn't seem to apply to pasta sauces or pornography, but it does apply to travel guides. At least according to WH Smith. And after dreaming up some unsubstantiated statistics, we concur - dithering over which travel guide to buy at the airport is the number one reason why people miss their flights. That's a scientific fact.

See, there are simply too many to choose from. And you can never remember which ones you've already bought. So WH Smith are going to do you all a favour, by stocking guide books from just one publisher. Penguin are expected to sign an exclusive deal with WH Smith Travel to stock travel guides in their airport shops. In a nutshell, it means if you want to purchase some reading material for the plane, you'll have the choice of DK's Top 10 guides, and the Rough Guides. And that's it.

As 3 did when they cancelled 3 Like Home, the spin applied is that this is in your best interests. According to The Bookseller, a spokesperson from W H Smith said that trials had indicated the change would make travel guide shopping "easier for the customer", as travellers are "extremely time pressed". Because as we're all aware, buying a travel guide is one of the more difficult scenarios mankind has to contend with. And of course we're extremely time pressed - those three pints of Grolsch aren't going to drink themselves at 8 in the morning, now are they?

So thank you WH Smith, for saving me literally seconds of time by not having to consider which guidebook might be most suitable for me. At least you have my best interests at heart, and you're not benefiting by flooding your shelves with guidebooks bought in bulk at a massive discount, from a publisher that in turn sells more stock and increases its market share. I mean, it's not like the two of you stand to profit during a recession that is biting the publishing industry hard on the arse. Three cheers for WH Smith!

[The Bookseller]

TOPICS:   Travel


  • Jill
    I would of thought it wouldn't affect the majority of people. If you don't bother getting a guide to where you are going before you get to the airport, presumably, you would be happy with any old guide they sell (as long as its reasonably good which the Penguin ones, again presumably, would be).
  • Alastair M.
    All absolutely true, Jill. It's hardly a major problem. But it is faintly ridiculous that leisure travellers who maybe expected to be able to pick up a guide to Zambia or Malawi (for example) at the airport simply won't be able to any longer. Nor will the business traveller on his way to Helsinki for a couple of days be able to pop into an airport shop and buy a simple city guide (Bradt or Insight guides). He'll have to settle for the Rough Guide to Scandinavia.
  • Starbollocks
    Anyone heard of a public libraray?
  • Starbollocks
    Erm I mean library
  • Melissa S.
    This isn't just about airports - this is about 450 shops - all stations, hospitals etc as well as the airports. It also affects incoming tourists, so a tourist arriving at Paddington fresh off the Heathrow Express will only have a choice of Penguin guides- great timing with the Olympics coming up! The range wasn't great to start but sales helped support a wide range of companies which are now going to be even more cash strapped. We have nothing against Penguin books as such but we do want the public to have a choice. This deal is not good for the industry, not good for the authors, and not good for readers. Guidebook publishers and writers have been struggling economically for sometime and this could be another body blow which sees some of the best writers simply give up. Help us fight this deal and offer real consumer choice and quality publishing. Melissa Shales - Chairman, British Guild of Travel Writers
  • Melissa S.
    I should add that I've just had it pointed out to me that the deal is for overseas travel guides and for 12 months, so my Olympic analogy probably doesn't work terribly well, but the rest still stands. This is 450 key outlets where you will no longer be able to buy Lonely Planet, Berlitz, Michelin, Time Out, Frommers, the AA... the list goes on and on.
  • The B.
    Who actually buys these at airports anyway? If you're using one it's generally for advance planning of antics abroad so why not just buy from Amazon?
  • Paul S.
    I buy them. If I see a cheap last minute flight and I take it, then I'll always pick up a new guide book at the airport. Even if I've already got a guide to a particular destination, I always buy one because no one guide covers everything, and some miss plenty of information out, depending on who their target market is.
  • Jamie
    Heh, I have worked for WHSmith Travel Retail and DSGi. Maybe I should apply for Ryanair to complete the BW-hate triple! In the time I did work for Smiths (Gatwick South), I can't say I saw massive amounts of travel guides go through the tills. Plenty more OK mags and R&J book club recommendations. However, what with it being south terminal, I guess there were limited things people needed to know about their destination, beyond where to get sunburn and chips.
  • Hugh T.
    This has nothing to do with making things easier for consumers. That is just the spin that Penguin and W. H. Smith is putting on this deal to justify it to the public. It is, pure and simple, Corporate Greed. Greed of a kind pioneered by Fred Goodwin and his banking chums plus those MP's more interested in getting their snouts deeper into the trough than representing the people who pay their salaries, the public. Don't be taken in by it. With this exclusive deal Penguin dispose of their competition and you the consumer get to choose a Dorling Kindersely guide or a Rough Guide. The airport bookshop is the first place I head to when I arrive at an airport. I'm looking for a guide book and my first choice if it's a short trip is one of the AA's Spiral Guides because I like their format and planned itineraries. If there is not one for the destination I would pick a Dorling Kindersley Guide. For longer trips I'll go for Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or one of the excellent Insight Guides. Then I'll buy between six and twelve paperback novels to read while I'm away. But not any more. I'll decide in advance what I want and get them from Stamfords or Amazon. And I won't be buying any of Penguins output. I write guidebooks for a living and my two foreign titles, Globetrotter Jordan and soon to be published Globetrotter Lebanon are by New Holland and won't be available in airports or railways because of this anti competitive deal. It won't affect be in terms of royalties because these titles were written for a one of payment. But I know that my publisher has paid of most of it's editorial staff owing to the credit crunch. They won't be commissioning any new titles next year and they are cutting back on their programme of revisions. Sales will drop further and may result in further cut backs. Not good for me and of less benefit to the consumer. Publishers will go out of business, fees paid to writers will be forced down and the standard and quality of the guides will suffer.
  • W c.
    [...] sale of travel guide books has prompted a lot to be written already, ranging from the angry to the sarcastic. Smith’s decision to limit its range of travel books to basically DK and Rough Guides in [...]
  • Mike G.
    I wish people would stop saying 'who buys a travel guide at the airport - everyone buys them in advance'. If that were the case then WH Smith and penguin would not be doing this deal. And before WH Smith had an airport monopoly, the shelves of other stores such as Hughes & Hughes and Books Etc were lined with travel guides, hundreds of them, so it's safe to assume that they stocked them because people bought them, not because they thought it looked good.
  • JSW
    Disgraceful. WH Smith has just lost me as a customer.
  • Why B.
    [...] the deal WH Smith recently struck with Penguin to stock only their travel guides means that, despite their pissing and moaning to the contrary, consumer choice has been drastically [...]
  • The B.
    [...] new platforms to the publishing industry, they also pose a threat to physical sales – a marketplace that major publishers can dominate and manipulate with impunity. In the future there’ll be nothing to stop top-selling authors releasing material themselves [...]
  • Junko M.
  • Ila C.
    @jordan I don't but the best option for some good traffic is this right here http://tinyurl. com/32uv9us

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