The folks at Lonely Planet pitched me on this, and I actually thought it was pretty cool. They’ve launched a new service called Pick & Mix (currently only for Mexico, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, so I guess it’s in beta) which enables you to buy individual chapters of their guidebooks. From the email I received:
To give people a chance to try Pick & Mix, the first chapter from each guide is free. Also, because we know how important it is to travel with current information, chapters are available prior to the release of the book. Right now, the new editions of the Guatemala and Baja guides are available via Pick & Mix in advance of the book release.
This is a pretty smart approach, because I often end up hauling around guidebooks and only using a small portion of them. For example, we bought a Hungary guidebook for our recent trip to Budapest (there were no Budapest-only books available on Malta). We barely left the capital on our trip, so eight-tenths of the book was just dead weight.
How Much Does It Cost?
I was checking out the Pick & Mix books, and noticed that there were some significant differences in price. Some chapters cost about four cents a page, while others cost as much as ten. I asked my Lonely Planet contact about it, and he said:
We considered different models, including iTunes-style flat pricing, but it just didn’t seem fair to charge the same for a 10-page chapter as for a 100-page chapter (our longest chapter, believe it or not, is a 244-page monster). So in the end we opted to base chapter prices on the price of the book, and the length of the chapter.
So, a long chapter with more information costs more than a short chapter. And a chapter from a $30 book costs more than one from a $15 book (assuming they’re a similar number of pages). About 80% of chapters ended up costing between US$2-4.
Is this a more environmentally-friendly option? I’m not sure. The printing industry no doubt has some efficiencies which means that the cost of printing one book is less impactful than printing out a hundred pages on your printer. But then you do avoid the resources expended on printing the cover and gluing the book together.