Lonely Planet Sells Out

In an odd deal that will likely generate lots of discussion, the Wheelers have sold 75 percent of the Lonely Planet publishing empire to the BBC. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but you can bet it was quite a Ka-Ching for the former backpacking hippies. The story says it fell under the BBC’s 350 million pound borrowing cap, but even if it’s half that amount it’s a major chunk of change for three quarters of Lonely Planet.

This deal is wierd in a lot of ways though. First of all, since the BBC gets a big portion of its revenue from licensing fees in the UK, this is quite a blatent commercial undertaking. It’s also odd that a publishing company based in Australia, that counts the U.S. as its largest market, gets bought by a quasi-private British firm.

It could have been worse though, that’s for sure. If they were swallowed up by Wiley or Random House, this would be a day of mourning. This quote from LP’s Europe chief is not very encouraging though: “We bring into their portfolio travel as a passion point and we’re very much a complement to what they’re doing with cars, food, gardening and so on.” Keep an eye out for the Rose Gardening Thorn Tree coming soon…

  1. Petea T Hertonau

    Thought it was worth clarifying an error in your blog post.

    The BBC does get its UK operating funds from UK license fees and under their charter runs as a not-for-profit.

    However BBC Worldwide is the *commercial* arm that bought Lonely Planet (not the UK not-for-profit part). BBC Worldwide do in fact do lots of commercial undertakings. Refer to their website http://www.bbcworldwide.com

  2. Tim

    True enough, but many Brits are complaining that there’s not enough of a distinction, that they should spin off the latter completely and not call it the BBC anymore. They don’t trust the current arrangement.

  3. Paul

    I’m less concerned with the BBC owning it than what might happen if their commercial plans change and they then decide to sell it on to someone else. It’s one thing for the founders to choose carefully who buys it, but they won’t have that luxury in the future…

  4. Jason Halberstadt

    All the quotes that I’ve read from executives make it clear that they’re buying it for the online content. BBC announced that they would publish all LP book content on the web, and make lonelyplanet.com into a social network. This makes a huge amount of sense since studies show around 80% of people use a search engine to research a destination before they travel, and if LP and their books don’t get found, they don’t make a penny on their content.
    Also, LP has an up-to-date issue – most of their books are several years out-of-date. The sheer amount of work that it takes to update hundreds of books continually and provide trustworthy content just isn’t going to happen with the old model of send a writer out into the field every few years. This is a job for a social network or community a la wikipedia.
    The BBC now seems to be mimicking the model pioneered by http://www.vivatravelguides.com where user generated web content is compiled into more up-to-date, less biased printed guidebooks. The BBC “gets the web” better than the Wheelers and will help it evolve into the next generation of travel guides.

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