Sunday, June 08, 2008

Controversy Continues to Dog BBC Aquisition of Lonely Planet

Earlier this year the commercial arm of the BBC purchased the travel publisher Lonely Planet from the founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler. At the time the purchase raised eyebrows since it represented a particularly overt foray into competitive publishing by an organization that historically did not seek commercial advantages. A number of publishers took issue with this purchase even though the acquisition was made by the for profit business operations of BBC Worldwide. This type of expansion had been published and discussed by BBC Worldwide unit as part of its strategic plans.

The Sunday Times is reporting that Time Out founder Tony Eliot has written to the Office of Fair Trading demanding that the office launch an investigation into the purchase. Eliot believes that the acquisition breeches the BBCs obligations under their fair trading and competition guidelines. From the article:
In the letter, seen by The Sunday Times, Time Out founder Tony Elliott says he fears that the BBC will provide Lonely Planet with “an inexhaustible fund of factual, technical and editorial information and expertise quite beyond the resources of any privately funded organisation such as Time Out”.
The article also notes that Penguin, which also publishes travel guides might also support the action:
Penguin, owner of the Rough Guide travel series, is also frustrated. It requested further details from the BBC Trust last October, under the Freedom of
Information Act, on how the Lonely Planet deal was endorsed and how the company would operate in future.
The larger issue regarding BBC Worldwide's ability to expand and extend their commercial activities has already been established; therefore, it is unlikely that this action will generate any support at the OFT. No doubt Time Out has attempted to galvanise some additional publishing support behind this effort, but has evidently not been able to do so otherwise, the PA would have been party to the complaint.

In related news Judy Slater who had been CEO of Lonely Planet since 2000 has left the company to join an investment advisory group.

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