April 13, 2008

Faked planet turns out to be real deal

Lonely Planet travel guide author Thomas Kohnstamm is releasing a book - Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? - detailing the cheap rates that Lonely Planet pay their writers and how such cheap-skatery results in travel guides being written from a lounge room in San Francisco, rather than the country of the writer's alleged adventures.

"Kohnstamm, who worked on more than a dozen guide books for the publisher, has even admitted that he didn't visit one of the countries he wrote about, saying he worked on the book about Columbia from his US home.

"They didn't pay me enough to go (to) Columbia," News Ltd newspapers reported him saying.

"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do."

He also claimed to have accepted free travel, breaking the publisher's policy aimed at maintaining the independence of its authors."

Here's the real kicker though:

"Lonely Planet has conducted a review of all Mr Kohnstamm's guide books, but says it has failed to find any inaccuracies in them."

Fake but entirely accurate.

Kudos to Mr Kohnstamm!


  1. Anonymous2:12 AM

    A friend of mine swears by the lonely planet books, having travelled around the world twice with them. However, they have gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion, as the information was outdated or incorrect. She actually visited these places, on a budget, and they should have paid her to write sections of the books (why not do it as an online Wiki in this day and age?).

    I lost faith quickly with Lonely Planet after travelling to Mexico and finding most of the data was severely outdated - RV and camping sites listed that were closed years ago, for example. It was clear they just took data out of an older book.

    The Lonely Planet guides have a certain hip cache with the younger backpack crowd, but as a useful guide, they are less than stellar, and can get you into some serious trouble in 3rd world countries, as you stagger around with wrong directions looking for a hotel that closed in 1988.

    It is a shame that this author simply didn't turn down the work. Instead, he blames the publishers for not paying him enough to do the actual work.

    Sounds like a typical American (to the rest of the world). Nothing is ever our fault, eh?

  2. Anonymous3:41 AM

    I actually tried to use that LP to Colombia last year when I was in Bogota and that was a horrible book. I remember thinking at the time that it seemed like not much research actually went into the book.

  3. He's got it right there. Apparently their rates are pathetic. Back when I had my small visit to the states, I looked afterwards into the possibility of doing a bit of travel writing. I noticed that the person who wrote the Lonely Planet guide to Melbourne was Jeff Sparrow (he of socialist blog Left Writes) - in other words, a person who lived in Melbourne anyway.

  4. Anonymous3:20 PM

    Wow! We used LP for the Christmas trip last year and had no problems at all. The Australian LP, though, was consistently out of date when the wife was using it Down Under. Sure, some things don't change but the 'cheap eats and sleeps' almost always were different to as described.

    Great find - the more you know, huh?

  5. Anon - have to admit that it surprises me a little that Lonely Planet has maintained their hold on the "hip" back-packer crowd. Good marketing pays, I guess. No one has tried very hard to take away their niche - sheesh, how hard could it be?

    The difficulty with travel guides, and it would apply no matter the brand, is that they date very quickly. Hey, the country may still be there and the odd 3000 year old monument, but contemporary things change rapidly - small businesses in every country fail fast, churn is high.

    Sort of agree with your point that the writer should have simply declined the job, but on the other hand I get the impression that his "expose" about travel writing (a first? good for him!) will be more nuanced and revealing about the industry rather than just dissing Lonely Planet about wages. Let's face it, everyone knows that Lonely Planet pay bugger-all. Forget being "hip", the owners are capitalists, not socialists!

    Jeff - well, you were right, but Lonely Planet have still declared it to be accurate.

    Tim - Geoff Sparrow is cheating, he didn't have to get off his couch either. Hmm, is it cheating, or is it smart? Of course, it's meant to be a "travel" guide ... should one have to travel to write it, or are they best written by the natives? That's a whole different debate, isn't it.