Only a week ago, The View from Fez posted on Twitter about an opinion piece on the great blog The Longest Way Home about Lonely Planet losing its way. Now comes news that the iconic guidebooks may be sold off by the present owners, the BBC. As Lonely Planet is the guide book most often used in Morocco, we are following this story with some interest
Dave, the author of the piece on The Longest Way Home, was making the valid point that Lonely Planet had lost its way and that the extremely useful travel forum, Thorn Tree was in melt down after being shut, reopened and then gutted. The wonderful Lonely Planet travel books, built up so lovingly over the years since the founding in 1972 by Tom and Maureen Wheeler, were sold to the BBC and that was the start of a slow deterioration. There had, as Dave pointed out, always been plenty of room to improve, but compared to other guide books Lonely Planet was still the best there was.
"When in 2007 the BBC Worldwide bought 75% of Lonely Planet I thought things were bound to get better. However things remained pretty much the same. Then in 2011 they bought the remaining 25% and things actually spiraled quite dramatically downwards."- Dave - The Longest Way Home
Yesterday travel bloggers and travel writers were reacting to a story that a Kentucky billionaire will buy a controlling stake in LP while BBC Worldwide will retain enough of a stake to maintain editorial control. It is expected that, barring any last minute glitches, the deal will be finalised sometime next week.
"We have been exploring strategic options for Lonely Planet for some time now but no deal has been done and we are not going to comment on speculation about its future" - BBC spokesman Philip Fleming
The potential buyer is said to be Kentucky billionaire Brad Kelley (pictured below in a screen shot from a WSJ documentary). Kelley made a fortune selling discount cigarettes before selling his company in 2001 for around $1 billion and is now one of the largest land owners and conservationists in United States.
Travel blog Skift reports that Mr Kelley is prepared to pay about $US100 million for a controlling stake in Lonely Planet.
BBC Worldwide's purchase of a majority stake in Lonely Planet in 2007 cost 88.5 million pounds. The deal proved controversial as critics argued it went far beyond any connection with the BBC's programming. In early 2011, BBC Worldwide handed over another 42.1 million pounds to take complete ownership of the group.
It is not clear what Mr Kelley intends to do with Lonely Planet if he secures a majority stake. The acquisition would add to an investment that the American businessman has in OutwildTV, a site that promotes video documentaries by travel writers, Skift reported.
The sale could have implications for Lonely Planet staff and for freelance travel writers. In the Melbourne offices of Lonely Planet rumours of a relocation had been circulating for weeks. ‘‘We're all terrified it's going to see LP move headquarters to the US.’’ A spokesperson for Lonely Planet in Melbourne would not discuss speculation of a sale of the business, but confirmed 12 jobs in the company’s cartography department would be cut in an unrelated restructuring process, due to ‘‘improved efficiencies in the way we prepare maps for publication’’.
‘‘These changes are part of Lonely Planet’s ongoing evolution from traditional publishing to multi-format publishing,’’ spokesman Adam Bennett said. ‘‘This process is still in train, and 12 members of the team are currently assessing their options, including redeployment opportunities where appropriate.’’
"90% of people The View from Fez photographed in a one hour period in the Talaa Sghira in Fez were carrying Lonely Planet - the other 10% were lost." - David Margan Australian TV journalist