Personalization and the publishing business

The Business Standard of India wrote up a really interesting review of Offbeat Guides today:

Recently, I had the chance to travel to Japan to speak and participate in an international conference. Ever heard of Sapporo? Quite honestly, I hadn’t. It’s Japan’s 5th largest city in the northern island of Hokkaido. There’s a good chance I would never have bothered to find out where it is, if not for the conference. Now that I had to spend a week there, I figured that it would be a good idea to get a travel guide. And so, off I went looking for a travel guide to Japan. I found two books, both very generously priced at around Rs 1,500 (ed. Note: That's about USD $35). I probably wouldn’t have minded it that much if the book had enough material about Sapporo. Unfortunately, all it had was a measly chapter about the city where I was travelling to and I was left standing with a book where 95 per cent of the information had no practical use to me. It didn’t take me long to put the books back in the bookshelf. It’s after this experience that I so much appreciate the value of OffBeat Guides, a make-it-yourself, personalised guide book service. The service understands that your main interest is the city you are travelling to. In this case, my only interest was Sapporo in Northern Japan. And in under 10 minutes, I had myself a personalised travel guide to Sapporo.

This sums up so succinctly why I started the company - I travel a lot, and I was disappointed with what more traditional guides gave me about the places I was going - especially if they were not the 50 most traveled places in the world. I wanted travel search that worked for me, rather than something that made me work hard to collect all the information on my own. Here's what Kiruba Shankar, the author of the article writes:

It then gives me the choice of menus of the different information about the city and I get to choose what I want and what I don’t want. For example, I did not want information about 5-star hotels. So, I unchecked them. But what I definitely wanted to know was the Subway train map and the local bus routes. Likewise, there’s a long laundry list of items I can choose. Even though all the information is available on the Internet free of charge, there are two distinct advantages that the book provides. One, someone else does the searching for you, saving you time and two, all the information is neatly packaged into a small book making it easy for you to carry along. You can either choose to have the PDF version for about Rs 400 Ed. Note: USD $9.95) and read it off your laptop or choose to buy the printed book for about Rs 1,000 (Ed. Note: USD $24.95). I prefer choosing the PDF version and taking a printout on my printer. Works better this way. The beauty of the book is it’s personalisation. Since it knows what dates you are in the city, it only lists important events that take place in the city when you are there. For example, I was told that there is a Beer Garden Festival happening which I made sure to attend.

Go read the entire article, and sign up for the private beta - there's a waiting list right now, but we're letting more folks in to the beta on a first-come, first-served basis. We believe, as does Kiruba, that personalized publishing is a tremendous opportunity in the publishing business - and that printed books have a lot of value, especially if you can personalize them to each individual reader. I'm a big fan of customized product companies like Moo, Cafepress, Lulu, Spreadshirt, Threadless, and JPG Magazine. I think there's a new sector forming around creating tangible representations of digital creations - and I like it...