On Monday, Google announced it had purchased Frommer’s, the reputable travel-guide business, from John Wiley & Sons for roughly $23 million—but, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “the deal is more significant for its strategy than its price tag.” As the author of two Frommer’s travel guidebooks, I too found the strategy compelling.
For years, Google has famously touted that it is not in the business of content creation and, other than the ads on the side of your search window, Google has no chips in the game. With its purchase of Zagat Survey last year and Frommer’s now, it seems that game may be changing. And it raises some interesting questions.
How will Google, which aims to make searches smarter and faster, balance its own unique content on the web? And how can Google users be sure the results they see aren’t just those Google wants them to see?
All these questions are legitimate and remain to be answered. But one big question has been largely overlooked: What about Frommer’s?
When news of the sale broke, much of the coverage focused on Google. What the acquisition means for its antitrust concerns, where it sees its business going, and plenty of gloom and doom speculation for Google users. It doesn’t seem like anyone asked Frommer’s what it thought of the deal. If they had, they might have been surprised by the answer.
The Frommer’s brand has been around since 1957 when Arthur Frommer wrote Europe on $5 a Day. Since then, it has become a successful and well-known name, spawning Budget Travel magazine along with a series of travel books and a web site. And while it has continued to thrive, times are also changing as more and more travelers crave up to the minute information that is accessible in a number of digital and mobile formats. The idea, it seems, is who needs a book that may have been printed two years ago when in two minutes you can use your phone to find the best new restaurant around the corner?
Google has not yet revealed its full intentions for how it plans to integrate Frommer’s content into Google’s mainstream searches, and perhaps more importantly, whether it will move the majority of its travel guide content online and eventually stop printing hard copies of Frommer’s books. But if Google does make the move to publishing more information online and creating accessible content through mobile phones and other devices, the Internet giant could actually help reinvigorate the Frommer’s brand. By making Frommer’s full content available and searchable online, and updating the information in real-time, the Frommer’s brand may take off even further now that it has Google behind it.
I can’t help but wonder though how Frommer’s guide book content will be generated in the future, and how Google will ensure that the hours spent researching and writing remain free of influence by Google’s advertising interests. Frommer’s has always been a place where great travel writers congregate and any reviews or recommendations are based on solid research and personal experience. As long as the model of journalistic integrity perpetuates and unbiased travel writers – rather than advertising dollars – continue to contribute to the content, the Google-Frommer’s franchise will be successful and Frommer’s will continue to be the lasting brand it has always been.