Well, sort of anyway. They are now offering Pick & Mix PDF versions of their Latin America series as a test of the popularity and usefulness of such a business model.
The idea is this: you can purchase single chapters of a book, skipping those you don’t need/want. You pay only for what you download. I can see both pluses and minuses for the traveler.
+ Save money up front by getting only the “book” you need.
– Maybe you accidentally skip information you will need or you change your trip. Then you’re stuck without useful chapters (and you’re probably somewhere you can’t easily download and print them).
+ Carry less heavy book — print only what you need. You could possibly have the whole thing on an accompanying piece of technology.
– You’re most likely to print one-sided; further, 8″x11″ sheets of paper are larger/bulkier than their printed version.
+ No shipping costs.
– Rather, printing costs.
Here’s an extreme example from my most recent trip. I carried around Lonely Planet’s Italy (2004), an 868-page monster. Were I purchasing chapters, I’d’ve had to buy: Liguria, Piedmont & Valle d’Aosta (65 pages), Lombardy and the Lakes (54 pages), Emilia-Romagna & San Marino (41 pages), Tuscany (83 pages), and for good measure Transport (11 pages) and Language (7 pages). That’s 261 pages. Of those (in hindsight), I would have printed 46 pages. This edition cost $26. I would have purchased 30% of the book for this trip, for an estimated cost of $7.80 + printing costs.
It should be noted, however, that I’ve used this book on probably 4 separate trips to Italy — and have used not only the chapters and pages above multiple times, but also the section on Rome. For me, one of the benefits of having the whole book is that, say, if tickets are cheaper to Naples rather than Milan, it’s easy to reference everything I need to make that trip possible or to quickly compare ease and cost. It’s assurance that I won’t be lost, I won’t go hungry, I won’t be homeless. For a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trip, it’s better to have more information, not less. It should also be noted that I never pay retail for guidebooks either. The current version of the Italy guide is retailing for $16.29 at Overstock.com.
For folks who are copying the book from the library, the quality will be better and they will likely appreciate the easy of printing rather than copying. For people who’d rather buy and carry the book, I’m not sure a PDF model will be much of an improvement. What I would prefer to see is a Pick & Mix bound version — don’t know if that’s even physically possible.
Thanks to Dana for the tip.