A New Take on the Travel Guidebook

By offering personalized, hand-bound books for travelers seeking the best of a destination at a specific time, a small publishing outfit is thriving

In 1832, German travel book baron Karl Baedeker began publishing what would become the venerable Baedeker Guides, establishing the travel guide as a genre. Today, the travel-publishing market has exploded into an estimated $250 million-a-year industry. Baedeker's initial sober, high-minded accounts of the world directed at the elite have given rise to numerous book series and Web sites offering trekkers of all stripes an expanding galaxy of possibilities. There are now guidebooks for the luxury minded and for those traveling on the cheap—and for solo women adventurers, culinary enthusiasts, family vacationers, eco-warriors, and those traveling with pets or taking in Europe by rail or Asia by boat, to name a few.

But two years ago, Colleen Cavanaugh Anthony and Alexis Owens, who met in Los Angeles while working on film and fashion projects, came up with the idea of creating their own series of custom guides, tailored to the special interests and needs of travelers headed to a particular destination at a specific time. They envisioned a personalized guidebook that would travel well, containing information unavailable to most other tourists. "Aside from setting up shoots, we were always figuring out where to have a client dinner," says Owens.

The pair, already avid globe-trotters who had often put together listings of activities for clients arriving in town for a photo shoot, poured their experience into launching in 2005 a custom travel-publishing outfit, Miss Information. The company reaped $5,000 in sales that year and tripled sales its second year. It doesn't yet have a sales goal or a projection for 2007.

Pocket This

After plunking down a $300 investment at a do-it-yourself publishing operation, Cavanaugh Anthony and Owens were in business. To create a truly customized product, their process begins with an interview of the client to mine the essential details the guide should contain. Using a Macintosh (AAPL) publishing program called Pages for layout, the pair then print pocket-size guides with photos and text that run 50 to 60 pages and are hand-bound with an old Japanese binding technique.

For an added touch, an old-fashioned library pocket bearing the client's name is placed on the inside jacket. The covers—a map of the destination—are made from archival paper (a particularly durable acid-free paper) and coated for wear and tear. "They're meant to get banged around," says Owens. "You can toss them when done or keep them; they hold up well. You can even use them as a coaster."

Without employing any marketing or advertising, Miss Information has relied solely on word of mouth. Not surprisingly, the outfit's first clients were people the pair knew from the film and fashion industries. Corporate clients so far have included The Gap (GPS) and Campbell Soup (CPB). Yet the company has expanded its range of customers and will even produce guidebooks for, say, out-of-town guests attending a wedding that include personal details, such as where the bride and groom had their first date and where they got engaged.

Antiquing or Clubbing, Anyone?

No two books are the same. For instance, the company created a guidebook entirely devoted to antiquing in London, another about indie nightclubs in Los Angeles, and one for a landlubber interested only in Hawaii's museums. To date, the publishing duo has profiled such locations as Tokyo; Rio de Janeiro; Jaipur, India; Cairo; Rome—even Omaha. All the guides include cultural happenings: museum exhibits, plays, and concerts taking place during the visit. "We talk to people about what they want and what they are interested in," Cavanaugh Anthony says.

The two need a minimum of three days' advance notice for putting together a book, particularly for a city that they haven't written about before, according to Cavanaugh Anthony. They keep extensive files on the locales that they've already covered and update their information with tips from travelers and references from books, magazines, and Web sites. For domestic destinations, they charge $45 per book, with a five-book minimum. International locations cost $50 per book, also with a five-book minimum. Single book purchases can be arranged on a negotiated-fee basis.

For the past year, North Six, a Los Angeles-based production company that manages photo shoots for such companies as Calvin Klein, has been ordering Miss Information books for its clients at least once a month. In April, Miss Information produced a book focusing on Los Angeles theater and museums for a group from Prada arriving from Milan to shoot an ad campaign. "These were things we would not find out about otherwise," says North Six production manager Kyd Kisvarday about how the guidebook's details catered to his clients. "Before we had to rack our brains to come up with a new restaurant or something new to tell our clients about. This is personalized, and they get the book when they check into their hotel. Our clients absolutely love it."

It's like traveling with a local guide who happens to know your personal tastes.

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