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What Google wants with travel guide Frommer's

Mergers and acquisitions news today as Google adds guidebook company Frommer's to its travel and entertainment quiver. What does the search company want to do with the old-school guidebook?

Mergers and acquisitions news today as Google adds guidebook company Frommer's to its travel and entertainment quiver. 

But what does Google want with a travel guide company? 

All Things Digital reporter Liz Gannes says it's another way for Google to move towards creating content. Gannes says, "When you're traveling in a foreign country and you want to find a place to go to dinner, you don't really want to want to scroll through a list of search results. You just want a nice little paragraph about what's the best restaurant in town. And that's the kind of thing Frommer's can give Google."

Kai Ryssdal: In mergers and aquisitions news today, this happened: Google is buying Frommers, the guidebook company. It's one more arrow in Google's travel and entertainment quiver.

The question is: What does a search and advertising company want with travel and entertainment content? We called Liz Gannes from All Things Digital to ask that very question. Liz, thanks for being here.

Liz Gannes: Sure, no problem.

Ryssdal: So tell me: Frommer's. Is this now Google becoming a Yelp-ish kind of thing?

Gannes: It totally looks like that. I mean, Zagat had been kind of an alternative to Yelp, which Google had been interested in. What I think is a little bit of an interesting distinction about Frommer's is that Frommer's is a regular old travel guidebook company; they're written by an editorial team. Zagat was a little bit closer to kind of the Google ethos because it was a user-generated content site at its core; it was one of the first sites where people could submit their own reviews. But Frommer's, while they do have a forum on their website, is really just a company that makes guidebooks and they make some cool new iPad apps and things like that, but they're written by pros.

Ryssdal: All right, hang on a minute, because I always thought that Google was a search and advertising company, not a content company.

Gannes: You would have thought. Yeah, I mean, this is really not the only example of that, though. You can't blame it completely on Frommer's. This is not a total surprise -- if you look at YouTube, they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars on content. So Google's definitely moving more into the content direction.

I think where it makes sense here is on mobile phones. So when you're on the go, when you have your phone and you're traveling in a foreign country, you want a place to go to dinner? You don't really want to look and scroll through a list of search results -- you just want a nice little paragraph about what's the best restaurant in town. And that's the kind of thing that Frommer's can give Google.

Ryssdal: OK, but wait a second, and maybe this is me getting up on my high horse here, but how fair is it for Google to be the company that categorizes and searches all the world's information, while at the same time having its own content that it wants to feed into that search information universe?

Gannes: You must have some friends in Europe -- I think they're very concerned about that too. It absolutely fits into a lot of the concerns people have about Google and pointing people directly towards their content. That's what Microsoft does with Bing; that's what Apple is doing through Siri. Siri doesn't say, 'Here, I have 10 options, let me read them all for you,' you know? Siri gives you a direct answer, and that's based on content that's been chosen as a good provider by Apple.

Ryssdal: But I like Siri, she's my friend.

Gannes: And Google wants to be your friend too.

Ryssdal: So is this the end, do you think, of sites like Yelp? Will Google eventually crush all obstacles in its path?

Gannes: Yeah, TripAdvisor and Yelp were both down on the news today of Google buying Frommer's. I would say that this is a relatively small deal. If you look at it in context, Zagat was a bigger buy. So this is a subtle move towards TripAdvisor and Yelp, but it's an acquisition of a storied brand. I mean, Frommer's has been around since 1957; people trust buying those guides for their travel. So it's something that investors in those companies care about.

Ryssdal: Can we now call Google a media company and stop with this whole search and advertising canard?

Gannes: I think we can. I think that Google has long been supported by advertising, and bringing in special content just helps with that.

Ryssdal: Liz Gannes from All Things D on Google and Frommer's. Liz, thanks a lot.

Gannes: Sure, thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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