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Life Cycle of a Travel Guidebook Series
guidebook series have "lifespans." They
progress through distinct stages from foundation
The character and quality
of the guides changes with each stage:
Stage 1 - Foundation
An avid traveler sees a lack of good travel
information of a certain type or style and
decides to fill it by writing and publishing
a guidebook. The traveler/author sets up a
seat-of-the-pants publishing business with
a simple distribution network, a few thousand
people buy the book, and revenue begins to
Stage 2 - Storefront
With revenue, the fledgling publisher hires
some help, often young, bright, ardent and
willing to do whatever is necessary: editing,
accounting, order fulfillment, even cartography
and illustration. Now that the mechanism is
set up, why not publish additional books?
A series is born!
may write the next book, but eventually s/he
accepts other author's books for publication
as well, signing royalty contracts with authors.
The publisher chooses new authors carefully
because failure of a title would be a serious
blow. Trusted, accomplished authors are given
full freedom to write good books; weak authors
are quickly weeded out as being unaffordable.
Stage 3 - Small Publisher
The publisher's list grows, as do sales, and
distribution improves. The company moves into
a proper office with a dozen full-time staff:
office manager, accountant, editor-typesetter,
cartographer, layout artist, etc. Freelance
editors, proofreaders, cartographers, etc.
are used when there's excess work.
grow, authors earn more royalties for their
work, which empowers them further and provides
a keen incentive to increase the accuracy,
timeliness and appeal of their books. Trusted
authors take on additional books, putting
their freelance careers on a more solid footing
and tying them more closely and loyally to
Stage 4 - Market Leader
The vitality and fresh approach of the series
wins ever more loyal readers, and soon the
larger, more established publishers take notice
and may even attempt to emulate the series
style. Their emulation is cosmetic at best,
and though it may steal some small amount
of market share from the young publisher at
first, the older publishers lack the vitality,
creativity and flexibility of the young publisher,
whose sales continue to grow as older publishers'
Stage 5 - Publishing Powerhouse
Ever growing sales of an ever-growing book list
produce substantial revenues, which require
an ever-larger business structure. What started
as a handful of young friends has become an
important business. Experienced managers are
hired, org charts are drawn, hiring practices
detailed, medical and retirement benefits
instituted. An experienced editor, hired to
take charge of the series, works to make content
and presentation more uniform across all the
books. Other editors, assistant editors, copy
editors and proofreaders are hired. The company
becomes a well-oiled book production machine;
the production schedule is its nervous system.
Authors are still said to be the driving force,
the "talent" of the enterprise,
but as the central-office structure grows,
freelancers are increasing seen as "suppliers" rather
Stage 6 - Mature Publisher
The publishing company is now mature and fully
ramified, an important business with a well-known
brand, an elaborate office and corporate structure,
large staff (and consequent concern about
staff turnover), and structured planning process.
Authors are now seen as suppliers of raw material,
even "data drudges," whose "crude" work
will be properly processed by the central
office into a polished finished product. Authorial
creativity and individuality, which had contributed
to the company's early appeal and success,
is now seen as problematic: it strays from
series consistency and can interfere with
the smooth flow of the production process.
Experienced authors come to be seen as troublesome,
expensive, dispensible: "we have the
texts, anyone can revise them," the publisher
thinks. Authors are disempowered, editors
are empowered. The locus of power for the
series moves from out-on-the-road to behind-the-desk.
Stage 7 - Decadence
Ever more revenue stays in the central office,
or floats up to owners/shareholders; ever
less is sent to authors and others working
at the interface with the public. When sales
flag, the problem is seen as one of marketing,
design, publicity, etc.--ie, a problem solvable
only at the central-office level (where, indeed,
all power now exists). Series design and format
"refreshed;" marketing tricks such
as promotions, free fold-out maps, publicity,
etc. may boost sales over the short term. But
the connection to the traveling public has been
weakened. New small publishers--vibrant, flexible,
in touch with readers--have popped up, though
they present no real challenge to the publisher's
market dominance at the moment.
Stage 8 -Senescence
The publishing enterprise is now seen as a cash
cow for investment returns or other pursuits:
a TV or video series, tour programs, sales
of boilerplate travel text online, etc. The
brand is well established and can easily be "extended"
to other areas, a tried-and-true corporate formula
well understood by the MBA types who now run
the company. The publisher sees small upstart
publishers nibbling at the edges of its market
are resolves to "steal their thunder" by
producing similar books. A new concept is produced
by a committee of top office staffers and sent
down the org chart to the young, low-paid editors
and authors at the bottom. Start-up costs of
books are high, however, and profit margins
disappointing, so the effort is soon abandoned.
Editors attempt to incorporate some of the upstarts'
appeal into the publisher's series, but the
vitality and originality are lacking in this
also-ran effort. If anything, it merely slows
the erosion of the publisher's market share.
Because all content and design decisions are
now made by committees in corporate offices
far from the "travel interface" (ie,
the traveler or author on the road), the connection
with the real world of travel is lost.
Stage 9 - Endgame
The series is dying: readership is aging and
declining, profit margins getting ever slimmer.
The one thing that might invigorate the senescent
series is a substantial infusion of power
(and money) at the interface—ie, to the author—but
this is the one thing certain not to happen
because it would make the balance sheet look
even worse—perhaps terminal.
The series may
be sold to another publisher, but the new
publisher will look at it the same way: cut
expenses! Raise the return-on-investment!
Ever younger, cheaper, less experienced authors—and
editors—are hired as data drudges, and they
do their best, but all direction now comes
from the top or from tradition. Their vitality
and creativity is not engaged; for one reason,
because their suggestions usually require
increased expenditures at the working level
of the enterprise. At some point the series
is unfixable, and ceases publication.