The dust hasn’t really settled on Google’s acquisition of the Frommer’s travel guide brand. I author Frommer’s guidebooks to Seville and Andalusia and the previous owner Wiley had made it clear it intended to find a purchaser several months ago. It’s been a frustrating wait – at least we now know who the new owner is. But what does it mean? Well the short answer is no one knows – but here are a few of my thoughts.
A big YES for quality content
I’ve always thought of Google as being on the ‘anti-professional content’ team. It set out originally to populate its clever tools like maps, places etc with user generated content. It was very much part of the ‘everything on the web should be free’ brigade. Spending cash – and a lot of it too – on a professional travel publisher makes it clear that Google sees that the web needs content created by professionals to be able to really deliver. Seeing as Google is the way most of us find stuff on the web, that’s a big endorsement for the idea of investing in quality content for your website to ensure search engine visibility. If the search engine itself is doing it, then you probably should to? (This tallies with all the stuff Google says in public - even if SEO folks might argue that frankly ranking well is still all about links.)
But what kind of content?
You can see immediately how listings – short accurate and appropriate write-ups of places like restaurants, hotels and shops will dovetail neatly with Google Places* – basically the content you get served up on a place’s Google + page when you click on a pointer on a Google map. This kind of thing was exactly why Google bought restaurant review publisher Zagat this year too – Zagat reviews now sit above user reviews. If you search for a specific place by name you’ll start to see Frommer’s reviews crop up in the search results pretty soon I imagine. Right now if you Google say New York and click maps the info if you click the pointer for New York features Wikipedia content – presumably we’ll start to see Frommer’s content on this page too. (*Is it called Google places? Does anyone else get completely confused by the way Google keeps chopping and changes its products?)
Does Google have any experience of print publishing though? I don’t think so(?) and that’s concerning for me as a guidebook writer and someone who believes passionately that guidebooks still have a place in travel planning and inspiration. I really hope the guidebook remains a core part of the product offering. Maybe as the Guardian newspaper has done there should be a move towards digital first but print should still be a part of the package. Interestingly adopting the mantra of 'digital first' suggests a need for fresher more up to date information. Could that lead to more regular updates and indeed more work for professional guidebook writers? I hope so.