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It’s a tale told in gory detail by the numbers. UK sales of international guidebooks have fallen 45% in eight years. Guides covering where to eat or stay have fared worse, down over 60%, says analyst Stephen Mesquita, citing Nielsen BookScan data. Bowker data suggests something even more depressing: only 20% of current buyers are expecting to rely on guidebooks as much in the future.

The age of the Rough Guide in every rucksack is over. The end is nigh. Or is it?

There are reasons to think that interpretation is too pessimistic. For starters, the sales decline is far from uniform. According to Mesquita, UK sales of guidebooks covering UK destinations rose 18% between 2005 and 2011. The global picture is patchy — Lonely Planet has seen strong growth in sales of Japan guidebooks, for example.