WHSmiths threaten to axe most travel guides

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 policies.”

His sentiments were echoed by guidebook author and editor Sue Viccars (CORR), 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 airports.

“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.’