If Guidebooks Were High School Students, DK Travel Guides Would Be Captain Of The Cheerleading Squad

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


If guidebooks were all students at a high school, this is who each of them would be:

Frommer’s = The popular Lacrosse Player

Well liked by almost everyone, reliable, always on time for class, and doesn’t stir up too much controversy.

Lonely Planet = The Stoner

Hangs out behind school smoking cigarettes between classes, friends with the other kids into good music, and spends most of their time making fun of the jocks.

Rick Steves = President of the Chess Club (and member of the A/V Club, Math Club, and Online Gaming Society)

Is fond of wearing khaki pants no matter the situation, will start lecturing you on the minutiae of a particular topic if you stop to make conversation, and is often bullied by every other group in the school.

DK Eyewitness Travel = Captain of the Cheerleader Squad

Pretty, good looking and sometimes intimidating to approach, proportioned in all the right places, and is often home alone on Friday night because everyone else is afraid to ask her out.


And while we’re on the topic of guidebooks, last night I attended the unveiling of the new round of DK Eyewitness Travel Guides here in New York, and unlike in high school, I had no problem going up to them and putting my paws all over their pretty little pages (okay, I’m officially done with the vague metaphors).

This year marks the series’ 20th anniversary, and to honor the occasion, they are releasing updated versions of their most popular titles, including Paris, New York, London, Rome, Prague and Ireland. As always, each book is packed full of color photographs, informative graphics of building cutaways, and well marked maps with each street clearly labeled (Lonely Planet, are you paying attention to that last part?). They also unveiled their newest title, Russia, ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Despite what you may have heard, print is far from dead, at least in the guidebook world. As DK’s Travel Publishing Director Clare Currie notes, “Our current reality is that more people buy guides in print than they do in digital equivalents . . . and [we] continue to respond to the market and deliver great content in the format demanded by our readers. We’ve listened to our users and also looked at how we travel ourselves, and what we want before, during, and after we hit the road.”


Now to be completely fair and honest, I have always been a Lonely Planet guy myself, most likely because of the type of travel I do, as well as the certain sense of familiarity I have with their format at this point. That being said, having a little time to thumb through the Prague and Berlin titles this morning, I have to say that they have got LP smoked on detailed and visual information about specific city and country landmarks.

Where other guides have a small blurb about a particular cathedral, DK is likely to have half a page detailing its history, accompanied by a color graphic with information and stats interspersed throughout the image. However, given their glossy pages and high-quality stock paper, the guides are going to be heavier than your other guides (I don’t think my back will ever forgive me for lugging around five of their guides when I traveled Western Europe after college), but what you lose out on in weight, you make up for in reading accessibility and visual flair.

I did obtain a little insider information about the evolution of the guides while I was there, as well as through my own thorough research (five minutes ago). If you weren’t familiar, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides and Rough Guides are both owned by the same corporate overlord, Pearson Plc, which distributes their book titles through their consumer publishing unit, Penguin Group. (Fun fact: DK was independent up until 1999 when it published 18 million copies of Star Wars books ahead of the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. 10 million copies went unsold, leaving them in dire financial straits, and thus leading them into the arms of Pearson. So in other words, blame Jar Jar Binks for their past financial problems.)

Given that the two titles are under the same umbrella, there has logically been some crossover in styles, hence DK’s recent streamlining of content, emphasis on various itineraries and inclusion of more restaurant options. This has also opened up a whole world of new, talented writers who are able to provide up-to-date, accurate information.

So to provide a summary, the cheerleader has learned to talk the Stoner, hang out with the Lacrosse team players on the weekend, and even say “hi” to the Chess Club President while walking down the hall. In other words: all is good at Guide Book High.


For more information and to take a sneak peek inside their most popular title, visit DK.com.

By Matt Stabile


About the Author

Matt Stabile Bio PictureMatt Stabile is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Expeditioner. The Expeditioner began in 2008 and is headquartered in New York City. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos or contact him at any time at TheExpeditioner.com. (@TheExpeditioner)

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