Below is my response to travel author/tv host Rick Steves, who recently wrote a story for World Humabout the trend toward electronic guidebooks, and asked for input:
"I'm a guidebook writer for SE Asia myself, so very interested in the topic. Those of us in the publishing industry know that it, like similar industries, is in very hard times. As you pointed out, there is a lot of excitement over electronic books, aps and readers, so I think its only natural to go in that direction. I just tested out Lonely Planet's new iPhone city guides. They were fun to use, and features like the maps with GPS, and ability to click on websites and phone numbers and make immediate calls were very helpful. However, there were some notable disadvantages. Tables of Contents, directories and lists tend to be very long and unwieldy. It's impossible to get the overall feel of the city with an eguide like this --it can only be read in bits and pieces--so it only really works if you already know where you want to go but want more information about a sight or venue or how to get there.
An iphone ap or electronic book does present the opportunity for a publisher to update the content more often (after all they don't have to pay to re-publish a paper book if a few phone numbers change--they simply issue an electronic update), however with the low budgets and stone-age business models guidebook publishers still use these days, I don't see this happening. And this is the problem... technology and platform can never replace good content... but the outcome I propose may not be what you expect. The interesting thing in all this is that the advantages of publishing with new electronic platforms, specifically things like iPhone aps, are geared more toward small publishers and individual developers--rather than the large book publishers. In this game, anyone with time, skill and expertise has the capability of producing a competing guide--with much more up-to-date content than a big publisher can manage. Inevitably everything will probably move to electronic format of some kind, but in the end, I think the big publishers will still be the big losers down the line--unless they revolutionize their processes behind the scenes.
Still for now, I know I appreciate putting my reference books all on one device if I can. As a guidebook writer that likes to work on my books while on the road, I otherwise tend to have to carry a whole heavy reference library on my back, which is not very nice!"