Arthur Frommer just announced that he bought the company he founded, or at least the rights to publish Frommer's guidebooks, e-books and Frommers.com, from Google. A pioneer back in 1957 when he self-published the first "Europe on $5 A Day" for soldiers turned tourists, Arthur Frommer's gamble had built a publishing empire and a trusted, worldwide brand. Was this move another step from a pioneer or the sentimental longings of one of travel's biggest game changers?
Arthur Frommer started me off on my career back in 1981, when a friend and I returned from 6 weeks exploring China on our own. I worked in film production at the time, he was in film finance, and a Screen Actors Guild strike put us both out of work. "We'll write a guidebook about China," we thought, and signed up for Arthur Frommer's lecture that night at the Learning Annex.
That was an era when you could walk up to a legend like Arthur Frommer, ask his advice, and have him hand you his brother-in-law's business card at Simon & Schuster.
Or maybe that's the way Arthur Frommer still operates.
No fool, my friend stayed in finance and just paid for his travel fixes. I wrote a dozen Frommer guides, worked freelance, then founded Family Travel Forum with my step father after I became a mom. Swept up by change, we launched our first website in 1996 and dropped our print publications for good in 2002. Three decades later, Frommer's, like every other publisher, had traded hands several times. We even went old school, co-writing two print guidebooks with FamilyTravelForum.com's user reviews.
When Google quietly purchased the Frommer's guidebook brand from publisher John Wiley & Sons in August of 2012, we thought, this is a play to augment listings in the many search-ad-fueled products that Google develops. We had applauded when the super smart folks at Google bought Zagat restaurant guides a year earlier because we saw it as a way to monetize the great content we struggled to produce.
As a small Long Tail publisher, I have mixed feelings about Google — both their good deeds in helping me grow my business, and the enormous pressure they've put on all of our industries to play by their rules.
But Google's millions reinforced the value of expert content vs. user reviews.
They also legitimized — at least to doubting relatives — the starving travel writer lifestyle many of us led. And so we were happy.
Soon there was buzz that long-time Frommer authors were being paid to kill their latest manuscripts — just hand over the data and forget proofing the print version. The news of BBC's sale of Lonely Planet to an investor with no obvious love for travel made us all anxious.
So when I awoke to news that Arthur, now an 83-year-old legend, had beaten Goliath to ensure that his writers' work would see the light of day at the few remaining Barnes & Noble's, I cheered.
I was proud of him, and proud of Google for giving him back his business, albeit one that everyone else was fleeing from. Today the Wall St. Journal quotes him as saying he will be publishing a certain number of new guides in print and online, and others in print only. He and his daughter Pauline, a very successful media powerhouse herself and excellent spokesperson for family travel, will run Frommer Media and the website together.
Frommer gave me my chance and I want him to get his. I just wish I could write the guidebook that will smooth his way.
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