The secret to digital publishing success? Don't start with the book

Lonely Planet's walking tour apps are a product of digital-only thinking.

In a recent interview, Gus Balbontin, director of transformation at Lonely Planet, talked about some of the development challenges facing publishers in the digital age:

What we face is breaking down the barriers of a very long-standing way of operating and working. For Lonely Planet, for almost 40 years, we’ve been creating books, in a particular way, with a particular process and tools and workflows. That’s been all thrown up in the air as new mediums and platforms come out. The lucky thing for Lonely Planet is that we’ve been in the mobile guides business for a long time. Although they were manifested as books, they were still mobile guides.

Balbontin discussed the challenges of content origination as well, suggesting that when developing digital content, it may not always be best to begin with the printed book, as is the tendency in traditional publishing:

The mechanics of getting [mobile digital products] out are very tricky — all the way from where we originate our content, which is originated primarily for a book, which then needs to be repurposed. The things that you create or generate for a book don’t apply for an app or an ebook. Stripping those things out or changing or morphing or massaging that content to fit the different mediums is a serious challenge.

Balbontin and the team at Lonely Planet recently addressed this challenge with a completely new product: walking audio tours. The Audio Walking Tours iPhone app is Lonely Planet’s first digital-only product with material that did not originate from a print book. The app takes users on city tours, much like the walking tours available in many museums. According to a press release:

The apps provide detailed information to let people explore at their own pace, with an easy to navigate location aware map that allows the user to stop and start their journey or skip ahead to any of the selected stops. The tours also work offline so roaming charges for international users can be avoided.

For more on how the Audio Walking Tours app came about, the importance of handling content in nimble ways, and why authors need to be more flexible as well, check out the entire interview with Balbontin in the following video:


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