Penguin announced this week that it was entering into a mandatory 30-day evaluation period required by UK labor law to consider re-organizing its travel division, which consists of Rough Guides and Doring Kindersley Travel. The evaluation means it is highly likely that there will be significant job losses across the travel group.
A source at Penguin tells Skift that the publisher has not retained advisors to consider a sale of the assets. Penguin quietly and unsuccessfully shopped the Rough Guide brand to publishers in the U.S. and the UK in 2009.
In a note to authors, publisher Joanna Kirby stated that 2013 titles already commissioned would proceed according to contract. Beyond those titles, though, RG will evaluate whether future editions will be digital-only and if the company can buy back rights from the authors. “It is clear that these changes in the market are not a short-term blip and Rough Guides must be prepared to take robust action to protect the business and reinvent it for the future,” Kirby wrote.
Despite what had been strong book sales, Penguin failed to translate love of the brands and content to the consumer Web for either DK or Rough Guides. In 2007, DK launched a much-praised but rarely used website that allowed users to build their own guidebooks from a selection of book content. Because it owns most rights to its content, DK has made digital gains via B2B projects and custom content deals for third parties.
Rough Guides’ has had even less success, with multiple stalled redesigns and botched content management systems. Rough Guides’ biggest digital challenge has been its relationships with the authors, many of whom retain ownership of their work and receive royalties for use. Unlike its competitor Lonely Planet, which began buying back rights from authors in the mid-1990s, Rough Guide kept a royalty system in place until late in the 2000s, by which time Penguin had missed its opportunity to build an online presence for the brand and book sales had declined to a point where they couldn’t afford to buy out authors.
Despite the obstacles, Penguin is confident it knows what direction to head now, as Kirby tells the team that changes will be made to make it a “fully flexible online and digital travel content provider.”
Disclaimer: Jason Clampet wrote the first edition of Rough Guide to Baja California, quite possibly the worst-selling book in Rough Guide history. Although he owns the rights, he’d part with them for a good fish taco.