Resurrecting a 19th Century Business

Arthur Frommer is sitting on a 21st century gold mine

Travel anywhere—or visit the travel section of a bookstore—and you’ll run across the name Arthur Frommer. He is the publisher of guidebooks, travel books and maps.

The very first title was: The G.I.’s Guide to Traveling in Europe by Pfc. Arthur Frommer. Printed in Germany, this 74-page paperback was published January 1, 1955 with a retail price of 50¢. It is now available as a curiosity for $199.99 and up. [See the first image in the media player at right.]

Two years later, Frommer brought out an expanded edition—174 pages—as Europe on 5 Dollars a Day. It took off. It changed how Americans viewed travel and established Arthur Frommer as a major force in travel publishing.

Enter “Frommer” into amazon.com and you’ll get 6,049 results. Go to Arthur Frommer’s website and you’ll have the entire world at your fingertips—where and how to go, where to stay, where to eat and drink, what to see and do.

I would bet this is the world’s greatest database of the world for the traveler—continually updated and invaluable.

Arthur Frommer’s 11-Month Romance With Google
Google made another foray into producing original content Monday when it announced its plans to buy the Frommer’s brand of travel guides from John Wiley & Sons to augment its local and travel search results.

Google will pay about $23 million for the brand, according to a person close to the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly about the terms. The companies declined to comment on the purchase price. It is a small acquisition for Google, but important for several of Google’s up-and-coming businesses. —Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2012

Google quietly pulls plug on Frommer’s print travel guidebooks
Google has ceased production
and publication of printed guidebooks bearing the Frommer’s brand name, Skift has learned.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.
Related Content
Comments
  • Linda

    Thanks for encouraging us to think ‘outside of the box’ or actually where there is no box! I enjoy your column.

  • L.Mohan Arun

    Why not use a virtual assistant type of task to compile this type of ‘selected’ info
    from Frommer’s existing web pages online?

  • Chris Altwegg

    A printed book? Ink on paper? Really? C’mon Denny! Put it on my iPad, give it to me on my iPhone. Let me add my own photos, notes, even audio and video recordings, all uploaded to the web in real time where I can share it if I want, and have a complete memory of the trip in one cloud-based location. And all that material could be fed back to the Frommer databases (with my permission, of course).

  • Liberty86

    As a Field Salesman in a totally unrelated industry to direct marketing,I find your insights and recommendations to be extremely useful and Informative. Thank you for doing what you do. It helps (something about unintended consequences comes to mind) those of us in the trenches to think about our job in a different way.

  • Donna Cusano

    Denny, I hope that Mr. Frommer or his daughter Pauline who’s been active in the business take you up on your offer–and that Perseus, their publishing partner, realizes your savvy. They may be leaning in that direction: "A new series, called EasyGuides, are an answer to the increasingly lengthy travel guides on the market that Mr. Frommer said were too long to be practical." but a truly tailored to need guide in both POD and ebook is what the market of all ages can use, beyond Yelp’s scatter-shot approach and TripAdvisor which has a reputation of being biased and suspect.

  • David

    Brilliant, Denny! Seriously, brilliant! Best regards, David

  • Scott M

    Denny, this model works for Frommer, but could be applied to many other publishers and subject matter as well. Technical publishers are doing this today. Excellent insight and application– of benefit to both buyers and sellers.

  • Mike Thiel

    Denny,

    Did Arthur answer you? I haven’t met with him in a couple of years but he’s been busy for sure. You should try to meet him. At 83, he is a ball of energy and ideas. I admire him greatly for his business/travel smarts and energy, as I do you for your marketing insight.
    Arthur has always been a great proseletyser for Hideaways International (www.Hideaways.com) the company I founded to make renting vacation homes and vacationing at little-known hotels/resorts around the world, and helped boost us in our early years. My understanding is that, other than bearing his name, he had long been out of Frommer Travel Guides and I doubt he had much t do with its sale to Google or made much off it. Ditto for Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine, which he started, sold to the Washington Post and didn’t exactly get along with them well. So, what he’s bought back is his name/brand. Not sure he got the content back from Google. That’s primarily what they wanted. Regardless, with his daughter Pauline, they are a "dynamic duo" and I’m sure they will do something relevant to today’s travel info needs, though perhaps not what you’ve suggested, interesting and insightful as that is.

  • Richard Truesdell

    Denny,

    I would agree with you that a menu-driven, print-on-demand (POD) business model could work for Frommer but even with recent reductions in the cost of POD printing, I think that the market for custom-printed books will be decidedly limited.

    I’m self-publishing automotive and travel books using Amazon’s CreateSpace POD platform where it is possible to publish magazine-size publications, 100-pages in full-color, perfect-bound, for less than $8 each. If I buy the books to resell on my website, I make $12 each at a retail price of $20. If I let CreateSpace handle the fulfillment, I make $8 and if it sells on my Amazon page (http://bitly.com/ATonAmazon) I make $4.50, no matter what price Amazon sells it for.

    Over the years I’ve written more than 1,000 automotive magazine features. I have content – text and images – that I retain copyright to since I’ve sold all but a few articles on a non-exclusive basis. But I can’t simply turn my previously produced stories into self-published, POD anthologies – abook like Chevy Muscle Cars of the Sixties, perhaps – because the original layouts are the property of the magazines who bought the features previously. I have to produce all-new layouts on my own, which now that I have basic desktop-publishing skills, isn’t too much of a problem.

    I see a future in POD self-publishing as it allows me to identify niches where I can sell from 250 to 1,000 copies of a title in a year. These are quantities that will interest few traditional publishers but over the years will result in a meaningful revenue stream as I build up my library and gauge exactly the kind of books my readers want.

    Setting up the infrastructure to allow readers to select the content is not quite as simple as you think, but not being an IT guy, I can’t imagine that it would be too difficult. But it is an expense that must be factored in.

    My POD books are a magazine-book hybrid. But I think your idea has merit and others like me, content creators, are looking for ways to publish directly to our readers and POD self publishing is a way to do it.

    Richard Truesdell
    Co-founder and Editorial Director, AutomotiveTraveler.com