Penguin will “keep a careful watch” on BBC Worldwide’s integration of Lonely Planet to ensure it does not hamper competition, the publisher of the rival Rough Guides and Dorling Kindersley travel books said on Wednesday.
The controversial acquisition by the BBC’s commercial arm, which hopes to use Lonely Planet’s content to build up its own websites, would be a test of whether the growing availability of travel information online would depress the guide book market, said John Makinson, Penguin’s chief executive.
“It is one thing for content to be available on RoughGuides.com [but] another for it to be available on BBC websites,” he told reporters at a briefing in London.
“I think common sense will prevail,” Mr Makinson said, adding that Penguin was not planning any formal objection to the deal. “We’ll just keep a careful watch on the relationship [between BBC Worldwide and Lonely Planet] going forward.”
Penguin, which like the Financial Times is owned by Pearson, sees travel publishing as a corner of the industry that lends itself well to online and mobile content.
The company has launched other online initiatives including Spinebreakers, a new social networking site to encourage children aged 13 to 18 to read, Facebook and MySpace features and a “wiki-novel” written by online contributors which was “pretty dreadful”, Mr Makinson admitted.
Across the company, however, he predicted that digital ventures such as e-books and sales through its website would account for less than 1 per cent of revenues for the next three years.
The traditional book business remained healthy, he said, in part because of consumers’ desire to collect books. The company has sold seven complete sets of its entire 1,500-title Penguin Classics series, at $8,000 (£3,950) each, he added.
Penguin, whose developed markets such as the US and UK typically grow roughly in line with GDP, is now chasing growth in emerging markets such as India, which boast annual growth of up to 25 per cent.
It will also launch its first full publishing programme in China in December, issuing 30 Penguin Classics titles in Mandarin with Chongqing Publishing Group, a local partner, but Mr Makinson predicted that Chinese attitudes to foreign publishers were not about to change.
Penguin has not published a China travel guide in Chinese. Harper Collins has, omitting references to the 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
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