Lonely Planet Controversy Sparks Debate About Guide Book Industry

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Lonely Planet writer and journalist Thomas Kohnstamm’s new book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? is a study of the life of the travel writer and the world in which he or she operates. The book has created a storm of fire and brimstone in the news media, some of it deserved and some of it not.

The news media and blogosphere jumped on the idea of plagiarism, while in truth it is common for even high profile travel magazines in the US pay freelancers per word (call it research) and do not pay for the writer to actually go to the destination. In the book Kohnstamm talks about writing about Colombia, for example, for Lonely Planet, though he had never stepped foot in the country. This is not plagiarism but is it travel writing?

Like everything else in the world, the guidebook industry is going online. Tim Patterson, an editor at Matador, an online travel community, may have said it best: “To me, the real story behind this scandal is the decline of traditional print guidebooks and the rise of interactive online alternatives.” Check out his “The Real Story Behind The Thomas Kohnstamm Affair.”

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