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The BBC came under heavy criticism from its own trustees today after selling the Lonely Planet travel guides business to an American billionaire and making a loss of £80 million.
The BBC Trust, under chairman Chris Patten, has been trying to trim the commercial arm BBC Worldwide for several months and today said the 2007 purchase of Lonely Planet for £130 million had not been a good “commercial investment”.
Today BBC Worldwide sold Lonely Planet to tobacco billionaire Brad Kelley’s NC2 publishing business for £51 million.
Diane Coyle, vice-chair of the BBC Trust, said: “The Trust’s strategy for Worldwide now is to focus on BBC programme content, and Worldwide would not make this sort of acquisition again.
“Although this did not prove to be a good commercial investment, Worldwide is a very successful business; and at the time of purchase there was a credible rationale for this deal. Given the significant financial loss to Worldwide, however, we have asked the BBC Executive to commission a review of lessons learnt and report to the Trust with its findings.”
The original purchase of Lonely Planet from its Australian founders Maureen and Tony Wheeler in 2007 came under heavy criticism from commercial publishers like Time Out and Guardian Media.
They said the BBC should not be allowed to exploit brands which were not within its own broadcasting remit.
“We acquired Lonely Planet in 2007 when both our strategy and the market conditions were quite different,” said Paul Dempsey, interim chief executive at BBC Worldwide.
“Since then, Lonely Planet has increased its presence in digital, magazine publishing and emerging markets whilst also growing its global market share, despite difficult economic conditions.
“However, we have also recognised that it no longer fits with our plans to put BBC brands at the heart of our business and have decided to sell the company.”