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LP has a formidable challenge ahead of it as Google has signified that it wants to own travel and has the resources to reach consumers at every step of the way as well as hire whoever it wants to make this happen.
In March the BBC sold Lonely Planet to NC2 Media, a young Nashville-based digital media company backed by billionaire Brad Kelley. Since the sale it’s been relatively quiet in Melbourne, Oakland, and London — with the exception of the BBC representatives moving out and CEO Matt Goldberg stepping down.
And LP’s first leadership change post-sale is relatively quiet too: in May it promoted Gus Balbontin to Chief Technology Officer from his previous role as Director of Transformation & Publishing Innovation. Balbontin has been with LP for over seven years, working on the brand’s publishing systems and its troubled digital-first content management system.
Like other guidebook publishers, Lonely Planet’s book sales are on a downward dive, but the brand has no plans to back away from print.
“I think it’s inevitable that one model will surpass the other in time,” Balbontin told Skift. “The challenge is to ensure that they can co-exist as we make the transition. The lessons are many and generally speaking, no different to many others going through similar situations — newspapers, music, etc. Does content change if it’s consumed through screens rather than shelves? What impact in content creation does a faster digital demand have? Structurally speaking, what new roles are needed?”
Balbontin and his team will stay in Melbourne, at least for now. “Technology at Lonely Planet has a global footprint and we don’t expect to be changing that anytime soon,” said COO Daniel Houghton, “though we may see and encourage a shift of technologists across offices to cross pollinate skills. Gus is based in Melbourne and will be there for the foreseeable future.”
Gus Balbontin speaking at O’Reilly Tools of Change in 2011