Monocle, the media brand that’s built a small empire by defying conventional wisdom about publishing and broadcast, is getting into a business that most would consider a slow-growth one at best: travel guidebooks.
Yesterday the brand launched The Monocle Travel Guide Series with titles for New York and London. Hong Kong and Tokyo are coming in July. Monocle partnered with German publisher Gestalten, which it has worked with on other book projects.
Unlike other travel guides, Monocle is focused exclusively on print, not digital. “We don’t think about the multiple extensions,” Monocle Editor-in-Chief Tyler Brûlé told Skift. “We look at this as a new franchise within the realm of Monocle.” This means books sold in bookstores, Monocle’s own retail operations, as well as retail outlets where it has already established relationships for its magazines and custom products like clothing and luggage. “We’re packaging concepts to work at points of sale, such as Hong Kong’s or Singapore’s airport and other Asian booksellers that are more savvy and limber.”
The books, which are a slim 148 pages, are in full color with multiple images per page and take advantage of the magazine’s network of photographers and illustrators. Rather than being divided by neighborhoods, the books are split up by interest, such as restaurants, cultural attractions, and retail. There’s also room for essays about the cities as well as discourses on architecture and design as well as suggested walking tours.
The books also seek to highlight points of interest readers won’t likely find in more the larger brand-name guides. “We think about a city in terms of neighborhoods to immerse yourself in, maybe even buy property, rather than where are just three great hotels,” Brûlé says.
The Market for New Guidebooks
Although Brûlé tells Skift that “Advance sales have been knockout,” guidebooks have never recovered saleswise since their peak in 2006.
Still, it’s not as terrible now as 2013, when the bottom completely fell out.
Stephen Mesquita, who authors the annual Travel Publishing Year Book for Nielsen, says that times have improved for some publishers. “The top publishers, such as Lonely Planet, DK, and Avalon,” Mesquita says, “are growing their printed guide sales on both sides of the Atlantic at the expense of many medium sized publishers – and filling the vacuum left by publishers pulling out of the market. So you need to be brave to enter the market now – although there is more activity with new series being launched.”
Monocle’s Brûlé sees advantage in his brand’s approach to guidebooks, which focus first on cities its staff and contributors already know well, or are within easy reach of its seven offices. “It’s been a more comfortable start because we began in markets where we have offices,” he says. “We’re lucky they are well spread around the world, and the books are different because we do have these offices with 55 editors, writers, and researchers on staff. When it comes time to do Beirut it’s an easy jump down the street from our Istanbul bureau.”
Brûlé says that Monocle is also trying to differentiate its books from series dependent on yearly refreshes in order to keep up with the likes of Yelp, Google, and other online sources that do a better job keeping users up-to-date about the newest hotels or hot restaurants. “The latest round of guidebooks were there for one trip and there was no sense of passing them on to anybody,” he says “They will be taking on a more premium feel — you can spill your drink on the book and it won’t really matter.”