South Pacific Handbook RIP

Moon Handbooks South PacificI regret to inform you that a 9th edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific will not be published. After 28 years and eight editions, Avalon Travel Publishing and I have decided that it will not be practical to produce a new edition.

There are a number of reasons for this, beginning with the numbers. Over the past 10 years, sales of Moon Handbooks South Pacific have dropped. The 7th edition (2000) sold a third less copies than the 6th edition (1996), and the current 8th edition (2004) has thus far sold just over half as many copies as the 7th.

Why are sales going down? Competition from other guidebooks and the internet is the obvious answer. Many people believe they can find enough free information online to make a printed guidebook unnecessary. What they don't realize is that much of what is found on websites is dubious and incomplete, or just one-sided advertising. A majority of travel websites are run by companies which want to sell you their products or individuals eager to share travelers tips with their peers. The discipline and quality control exercised by a professional book editor is usually missing.

Since 2000 my book has faced strong competition from Lonely Planet South Pacific. It would be inappropriate for me to criticize that book here, but suffice it to say that the coverage there is far less consistent and detailed than that in Moon Handbooks South Pacific. Lonely Planet is a monopolistic corporation which has pushed Moon titles off the bookshelves in Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe. Doubtless they'll be pleased to learn of Moon Handbooks South Pacific's demise because with no remaining competition other than Frommers South Pacific, they'll be able to space new editions of South Pacific and Micronesia further apart and cut back on the cost of researching off-the-beaten-track locations.

Changing Pacific travel patterns are another factor in the falling sales. These days the vast majority of tourists to the South Pacific visit only a single destination. Longer island-hopping trips to three or more countries have become the exception and single-destination guidebooks now sell as well or better than multi-country guides which are far more expensive to produce. Air carriers have acknowledged this trend by reducing the number of stopovers on their long haul flights between New Zealand and North America. In 2007 Air New Zealand discontinued their longstanding “Coral Route” service from Tahiti to Rarotonga and Fiji, effecively forcing travelers to transit Auckland to get between those places.

To boot, Avalon Travel Publishing's new house style works well in Moon Fiji and Moon Tahiti but is incompatible with a regional guide like South Pacific. The publisher's new format requires that most of the introductory material appear in combined Background and Essentials chapters in the back of the book. In the Moon Handbooks South Pacific, each individual heading would need to cover 15 different jurisdictions and readers would have great difficulty finding what they want. The only other multi-country Moon title, Moon Handbooks Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, is in the process of being rewritten as a Vietnam-only guidebook.

Books published in the United States are priced in U.S. dollars, and since 2001 the value of the dollar has plummeted even as research costs have increased. Moon Handbooks South Pacific covers the entire region from Easter Island to the Solomons and doing the field research costs thousands of dollars. At best, both publisher and author could only expect to break even on a new edition with no compensation for their hard work. I hope to eventually give the existing book a second life by uploading much of the content onto my webshite and I'll post announcements on this blog from time to time as it happens.

Well, that's the story. If you're interested in following the history of the book from the 1st edition of South Pacific Handbook in 1979 to the 8th edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific in 2004, you'll find it summarized on All Editions. The current 1,091-page edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific with its 31 charts and 119 maps remains a valuable reference on the region. Like the Pacific Islands Yearbook last published in 1994, copies of the 8th edition will be consulted by people seriously interested in the Pacific for years to come.

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