On the Road

BBC Buys the Lonely Planet But They Sold Out Years Ago

The Lonely Planet sells out for how many millions? Tell us, Tony.

The BBC today bought out the Lonely Planet for an undisclosed sum but we’ve got to be talking hundreds of millions for the travel guide which scores top of all word association tests for ‘backpacking’.

Tony and Maureen Wheeler have passed on their baby and the BBC now bears the mantle of consumer travel, printing up hundreds of thousands of glossy guides each year and quirky travel programs with just enough edge to appeal to anyone the funner side of 30.

The Lonely Planet began as an underground pamphlet letting travelers know the best places to score magic mushrooms in Bali or see kinky stage acts in Japan. The big money was in appealing to the kind of traveler who actually has money to spend, however and so they quickly tidied things up as the Lonely Planet went mainstream.

The problem with selling out is not that the Wheelers gave into the lure of a large income – anyone could fall for that – but that the world became yet another item for sale. The inherent paradox in the guidebook market is that whether the destination be a shit hole or not, the guidebook has to hype it up in order to sell copies. They can’t say, for instance:

Come to sunny Glasgow and get beaten up by smackheads on industrial estates before being used as a football by steel workers returning from the pub‘.

Instead it would be something along the lines of:

Glasgow is a vibrant city stepping out of its shadow and the streets are throbbing with youthful energy and verve…’

The BBC has long done middle of the road reporting, however – in fact, it’s more or less obliged to as a government organ – and it’s to be assumed that the ubiquitious, shiny face of Michael Palin will be seen on covers of Lonely Planets at bookshops near you…