Creating one of, if not the most successful guidebook series could not have some without a few errors, be it spelling errors, under budgeting or releasing a guide to a region that ceased to exist after the launch.
Founded in a small Paddington terrace in 1972, Lonely Planet has since reached unprecedented levels of popularity in every corner of the globe, with a particularly large following in China.
Speaking at the Travel DAZE conference in Sydney, Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler said without a doubt, there has been some huge mistakes in the book’s 45-year lifespan.
In the early days of Lonely Planet, every new book was a gamble, some excelled, others, such as the cycling series, fell flat on their face.
“We did some wrong books. We had done walking, scuba diving and they were hugely popular, but we really did cycling guides wrong,” Wheeler said.
Researchers were tasked with mapping out the routes and writing the guides and the results were well above expectations considering the tight budget, until Wheeler realized his team had failed to actually look at the budget in the first place.
“Every copy we sold we lost money on, no way could we ever sell enough to make our money back on them.”
“They eventually went out of print and I found them reselling on eBay for $400 a copy, I considered for a second to begin reprinting them until I was told that even for $400 a pop, we would never make our money back,” Wheeler added.
Another blunder was the USSR guidebook, which was published just as the USSR broke up.
“The USSR travel survival kit – one book where we did everything wrong. It cost far more, took a while to publish and just as it launched, the USSR all but disappeared,” Wheeler said.
While those failures were unpredictable, Wheeler recalled one Cambodia guidebook which had been translated into French and was printed with a spelling error in the title.
Staying in South-East Asia, a huge hurdle the Lonely Planet team were faced with was the issue of piracy.
Piracy was a particularly big problem in Vietnam, where shoddy copies of Lonely Planet books became so widely circulated they were not only being exported, they were staying ahead of the company itself.
“They got faster and faster, within a week of releasing our book there were pirated copies being distributed in Vietnam. We had a fifth edition and they jumped ahead and released a sixth edition using the same innards with a different cover.”
“People were buying their fifth edition guidebooks at Angus & Robertson at Sydney Airport and were arriving in Hanoi to find a sixth had come out since they’d boarded the plane,” Wheeler joked.
Amid these failures came incredibly success, but not without perseverance and a strong belief in the cause, said Wheeler.
“The real feelings of failure are when its small and personal, we were far more worried about the thousands of dollars than the millions.
“My advice is to do something you love and money will be a side bonus,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler and his wife Maureen departed with the business a decade ago, and now spend their time traveling and helping other up and comers in the travel industry.