Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why buy a guidebook?

As a guidebook author I obviously have a vested interest in this question. While no one disputes that guidebook sales have fallen – because of the economy as well as the rise of smartphone apps and other electronic alternatives – this recent New York Times article provides a number of good reasons why, for some travellers at least, print guidebooks remain an excellent option.

Noting that sifting through websites can take an eternity, the article points out that: "[C]hoice can be paralyzing. For those who want the deciding done for them, a trusted guidebook brand wins, at least in planning an agenda."

The writer concludes that "a guidebook stomps the web almost every time" in three ways. Firstly, guidebooks have "curated maps" which are more useful than anything published online by Google or Bing. Second, "guidebooks offer information you may never think to look for online. In the Hungary book, I happened on a section about common tourist scams in Budapest, and an article on Budapest’s Jewish population — neither of which I would have thought to look up on my own." Finally, with a printed book you need never worry about the battery running out, or going out of range.

As a friend pointed out, the writer didn't even mention roaming charges, or hotel-room internet access fees, both which can be significant. These were among the reasons given by two recent American visitors to Taiwan when I asked them why, in addition to their iPhones, they were carrying not one but two print guidebooks.

For a bit more on this debate, click here.

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