The Death of Printed Guidebooks?

As guidebook authors, we are particularly interested in the future of the printed vs. e-guidebook. What is the fate of those stacks of bound papers in publishers’ warehouses — and in our own little bookstore-in-a-converted-bedroom.

Since our first guidebook was published in 1999 (the “little green” version of Highpoint Adventures, if you were curious), printing & production costs have risen through traditional sources. While the traditional publishers of our earlier books have opted to raise prices and/or lower quality (change a color manuscript to black & white, use cheaper paper, etc.) to maintain their profit margin, more online sources of information have appeared, some books have been converted to e-versions for smart phones and ebook readers, and it seems like more and more large booksellers are either closing their brick-and-mortar stores or merging into even larger conglomerates.

What’s a guidebook author — and/or an outdoor enthusiast — to do?

We own shelves and shelves full of printed guidebooks. Being of a “certain age,” we find it cumbersome to use a small screen to read information about a trail or a climbing route while out and about. (“I thought you packed the reading glasses!”) On the other hand, carrying an entire guidebook when all you need are a couple of pages doesn’t work all that well. So, like many of our friends do, we find ourselves scanning pages and taking along just the ones we need. Only then there are the times when the weather or other factor causes a change in plans, and we are cursing the fact that we didn’t bring along the entire book.

It seems that there are still pros and cons for paper. But, it won’t be long, we believe, before we have larger displays that weigh very little and are flexible (so you can roll them up & stick them in your pack). Here’s a glimpse of something that seems to be heading that way:

Once that concept becomes independent of cables, and is flexible and durable enough to survive in a backpack, and in color, we think only those who love collecting artifacts will still opt for printed guidebooks.

Oh, dear. We think we hear a death knell tolling for those publishers who can’t adapt.

What are your thoughts? Will you still own printed guidebooks ten years from now? If so, what is the draw for you?

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