Can an 83-year-old revamp the travel book biz?

Google bought Frommer's travel guides only last August, but the 83-year-old founder, Arthur Frommer, just took back his company.

At an age when most people have long since retired, 83-year old Arthur Frommer is getting back in the publishing business. Less than a year after the eponymous travel guide business was sold to Google, Frommer bought back his brand.

But can Frommer’s compete with Internet travel sites?  Websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor give away their travel reviews for free. And modern vagabonds don’t lug around heavy guide books.

“My son just graduated from college. [He] is now traveling in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. His smartphone is his travel guide,” says Peter Hildick-Smith, CEO at Codex Group, which researches trends in the publishing industry.

Pauline Frommer, co-president of Frommer Media, understands the competition.

“There’s no doubt that many sites on the web are eating into the business of the traditional travel guides, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a place,” says Frommer.

She says her company is distinguished by its expert, unbiased advice. By contrast, she says a hotel review on a travel website might not have been written by a real customer.

“A lot of those reviews are sheer, unadulterated marketing. I’ve had hoteliers and hotel-chain executives tell me they have people working full time posting fake reviews,” says Frommer.

Frommers remains a trusted name.

“The Frommer’s brand is, from our research, is probably the biggest and strongest brand in the guidebook business in the United States,” says Hildick-Smith.

Will brand recognition translate into sales? Frommer’s will find out this fall, when it rolls-out a series of shorter books, called ‘Easy Guides.’

But the company won’t stop with print.

“We’re not married to paper books. We are married to journalistically created travel information,” says Frommer.

For those travelers who only pack a smartphone for their journey, Frommers will offer apps and e-books too.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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