Heading overseas? Need a guide?

Outdoors and travel writers and photographers are getting more than a little concerned at WHSmith’s plan to source all its overseas travel guides from one publisher.

The High Street newsagent, which has branches in most airports, motorway service stations, rail stations and other oft-used travel hubs, will no longer stock travel guides from any publisher other than Penguin.

The Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild – of which I’m a committee member and editor of its journal Outdoor Focus – has written to the Office of Fair Trading, expressing concerns that the move is anti-competitive, and will restrict choice for consumers.

Penguin publishes guides under several imprints including Rough Guides, Dorling Kindersley and Sawday.

But from now-on you can say goodbye to familiar publishing brands such as Lonely Planet, AA, Berlitz, Thomas Cook, Bradt, Time Out and Michelin. As WHS has recently signed a deal with BAA that excludes other retailers from its airports, your choice is suddenly rather restricted.

I’m not fortunate enough to have ever written an overseas guidebook (though I did contribute a chapter many years ago to a trekking anthology). But I can understand why folks should be concerned. It’s a bit like Tesco announcing it’s only going to stock Kellogg’s cereals in future. Or HMV deciding it’s only going to stock EMI releases.

Click on the following “Read the rest of this entry” button to read the OWPG’s statement in full (see the discount WHSmiths will be getting from Penguin, which gives you an idea of the mark-up they might be making!), and maybe request WHSmith to think again. What might the company’s next move be? To only stock newspapers published by News International? Only magazines published by IPC (result – no Trail, no TGO, no BBC Countryfile Magazine…)? To only stock sweeties made by Mars Ltd? (cripes – no KitKats!).

Hopefully commonsense and fairness will prevail. Commonsense – or the industry regulator.

UPDATE: writer Margaret Drabble has added her own voice to those raising concerns over WHSmith’s decision, as has, reportedly, Michael Russell, Scottish culture minister. See Timesonline report here.

For immediate release – June 11, 2009

The Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild (OWPG) has written to the Office of Fair Trading
expressing concern over WH Smith Travel’s plan to make publisher Penguin the sole supplier of
foreign travel guides in its airport, motorway and railway station outlets.

The deal would mean only Rough Guides, Dorling Kindersley and Sawday guides would be stocked
at the 450 stores, while popular names such as Lonely Planet, AA, Berlitz, Thomas Cook, Bradt,
Time Out and Michelin would disappear from the shelves.

According to industry magazine The Bookseller, Penguin is offering WH Smith Travel a 72 per cent
discount on the cover price of its imprints.

“By creating a monopoly situation in a very significant section of the retail guidebook market, this
deal is manifestly anti-competitive and will reduce choice for consumers,” said Jon Sparks, travel
photographer and secretary of the OWPG.

“Although our members’ prime focus is on the outdoors, there are many among us who also
produce travel guides, and many more who produce walking, cycling and other outdoors guides
for overseas destinations. This move places other publishers at a serious disadvantage and
thereby directly undermines our members’ future earnings potential.

“It also appears to be wholly at odds with WH Smith’s well-publicised corporate responsibility

His sentiments were echoed by guidebook author and editor Sue Viccars, who is also a member of
the OWPG. “This unprecedented step will limit choice for the consumer,” she said. “Customers
have – quite rightly – grown to expect a broad range of guidebooks at popular sales points such as

“The industry owes its diverse customer base – family, trekker, independent traveller, retired
couple and the rest – this opportunity. Limiting the number and range of authors used will not
give a sufficiently broad view of those destinations covered, and many destinations will be
excluded altogether.

“This move will severely curtail customer options, and will be highly detrimental to the potential
development of the guidebook industry as a whole.’


Editors’ note: The Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild represents leading creative
professionals who specialise in the outdoors. Find out more about the guild at www.owpg.org.uk.

John Manning

Freelance outdoor writer John Manning and his family are based in the Yorkshire Dales

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