Publisher Report Critiques Let's Go

Let’s Go Incorporated, publisher of 40 student-written travel guides, suffers from “numerous editorial weaknesses” and is “out of step” with its market, according to a report commissioned by its publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

The July report contained the results of four San Francisco focus groups with college students and “young adults.” It’s conclusion: the groups’ reactions were so negative that scrapping Let’s Go altogether and starting from scratch might be in the company’s best interest.

The report criticized Let’s Go for poorly catering to the “adventure” traveler segment represented in the focus groups. It said that the majority of the 24 subjects found Let’s Go a “young,” “commercial,” “beginner’s guidebook,” with “frivolous, silly” humor.

Let’s Go guides compared especially poorly with their chief competitor, the rapidly expanding Lonely Planet series.

In light of these criticisms, the report recommended that the brand be discontinued.

“It is extremely difficult to change an image of a brand which has lost its stature as a leading brand, especially when the re-positioning is not supported by heavy marketing and advertising dollars,” the report said.

“It may be more prudent (and cost effective) to introduce a new series of guides under a new name with an updated format rather than trying to convince the target that ‘Let’s Go’ is new and improved.”

Let’s Go editor-in-chief Ankur N. Ghosh `01 said the report was just one of many sources of marketing information and is not regarded by Let’s Go as the last word.

According to Ghosh, the participants had outdated information about the guidebooks and that Let’s Go’s own preliminary analysis of the raw focus group conversations differed from the report’s conclusions.

“It was a large disparate group of people, and one segment voiced their views loudly,” he said.

In addition, Ghosh says Let’s Go gathers marketing information by surveying its own 300-member staff about changes that should be made to the books. He compares the size of this survey to the focus groups.

“It was four groups of six people [in the focus groups,]” he said.

Ghosh said that Let’s Go was approaching the report as additional focus group data alongside its own evaluations.

According to Ghosh, St. Martin’s representatives met with Let’s Go a few weeks ago to discuss the findings. They discussed potential changes to the series, but none will be implemented until work on 2003 guides begins later with this year with a new managing staff. Let’s Go also made efforts to survey all of its alumni for additional information after it received the report, though Ghosh said responses are just starting to come in.

St. Martin’s cannot require Let’s Go to change its content, but it does have to approve every item in every book. Still, St. Martin’s is bound to publish the guides for a flat inflation-adjusted advance through 2006 by a contract signed last year, effectively insulating Let’s Go from market pressures for the next five years.

Ghosh said sales figures are never disclosed in the company’s offices.

“We don’t make decisions based on how well or badly the books are doing,” he said.

St. Martin’s representatives could not be reached for comment.