Are travel guidebooks dead? Not yet, people / by Thomas O'Malley

Last year I updated the Beijing to Shanghai chapter of the Fodor's China Guide 8th Edition, covering the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui. It's out now - more on that here.  Well done to Fodor's (Random House Publishing) for continuing to have faith with traditional printed guidebooks when so many others are pulling out of the game (Frommers, Forbes etc).

I actually had the opportunity to road-test the book by giving it to my parents for their visit to Nanjing and Suzhou (in Jiangsu Province). Their verdict was generally positive, but they noted that some of the maps lacked enough detail to pinpoint the exact road or alley that a restaurant was situated on, for example. Also - alas - a bar I'd listed in Nanjing had become a live jazz venue (which in the circumstances didn't prove to be a problem). Both definitely areas where travel guide apps kill it over print (provided you have credit for roaming / sufficient battery etc). But, at the risk of sounding like a luddite (I'm anything but) - what are the advantages of old school printed guidebooks?

1. Story-telling | The writer has the opportunity and obligation to make a place come alive. Guidebooks are not just information; they should have colour, drama, comedy, historical anecdote and opinion to elevate them above - or at least distinguish them from - the 'wikitravel' type guides.

2. They never run out of batteries or credit | Obvious point, but with a book you'll never need to find a cafe with a plug socket and order an unwanted drink just to put some juice in your tablet or smartphone.

3. You can scribble on them. | Annotate maps, underline or circle things you want to see, write down phone numbers or email addresses of people you meet. I don't think digital note-taking is quite the same as a good scribble. Yet. Although a pared down combination of Evernote with INKredible - on an iPad Mini 2 - would come pretty close.

4. You can share it | Say you are staying in the hotel for a day but your companion wants to sightsee? Do you give them your phone / tablet? Probably not, but you'll certainly chuck them the guidebook to carry along with them.

5. In years to come they become historical documents | OK, more of a curiosity than a reason for their continued existence, but the perpetual updating of the web means you rarely have the opportunity to see a snapshot of somewhere captured in time. While researching Qingdao for the Fodor's Guide I discovered this old Frommers in a hotel bookshelf. Which also neatly illustrates the guidebook's one unassailable failing. Can you spot it?

I would delicately suggest this might be termed a GUIDEBOOK FAIL.