Wednesday, June 18, 2008

StrollOn - just you, me & an mp3

The New World of MP3 City Guides

When StrollOn went live in April, we were interested to note that, during the time in which we developed and produced our products, creating the current business, some 35 other MP3 City Guide companies had registered online, resulting in an industry that now constitutes some 50 companies in all. It is a growing industry, of that there can be no doubt, although it is equally clear that the concept has still not fully caught on, capturing the public's imagination and attention.

I came, I saw, iPod

This is just one of the many sorts of slogans that the industry has been using to date to try to capture the traveling public's attention. However, it does not exactly explain what is on offer. It is certainly clever, but perhaps a bit too glib and therefore not effective in explaining what MP3 City Guides are - what their purpose is. Many journalists feel that the purpose of audioguides, audiotours and audiowalks is to take over the guidebook market. They all make it clear that, at the current point in time, the MP3 City Guide industry is ill-equipped to do so for various reasons. One of the main reasons appears to be the public's inevitable cynicism towards new ideas and products and I would suggest that where the MP3 City Guide industry has gone wrong to date is that it has not offered a clear and concise explanation as to what it offers the individual user, when it should be used, by whom and for what reason. Ultimately, the Industry has not managed to successfully explain away the cynicism and nervous attention with which it has been greeted thus far.

At the London Book Fair, 2008

At the London Book Fair this year there was a tangible and obvious shift in how the Travel Publishing Industry views the "digitalisation" of travel related content, whereby information is relaid to the user in mp3 audio format, enjoyable on an iPod. There were several seminars on this matter accompanied by meetings of softly spoken men and women, trying to gauge what each other's companies were doing about adapting to a new age in the distribution and presentation of travel information. Some companies, such as Dorling Kindersley, were leading the way offering podcasts, but clearly this was not seen as the answer. And yet, in spite of all the furtive glances and clandestine activity during those three days in April, none of the Travel Publishing Industry's big boys - the likes of Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, AA, Berlitz and Dorling Kindersley - have subsequently acted upon this evident impulse. Clearly they do not feel that there is any "first mover advantage", most likely due to the fact that this requires explaining to the masses what this new concept actually is and where it is likely to lead.

MP3 City Guides - a new concept in travel

Except it isn't and this is exactly where I believe that mistakes have been made in the promotion of MP3 City Guides. It is merely a different way of producing and distributing an old, tried, trusted and popular concept in travel, the Travel Guide. It is more accessible and convenient, allowing the user to get more out of their surroundings precisely when they want to, using two senses as opposed to one to enjoy the sites of the city.

The convenience stems from the fact that you can buy and receive the information online and then all that is needed is the ability to download the mp3 files to an iPod or other mp3 player. And since over 6 million members of the British adult population owned an iPod in early 2007, according to BMRB research, which amounted to 40% of the entire MP3 market, this last stage should not be a problem for many.

And the idea of two senses versus one stems from the fact that, by listening to city specific information, the user is able to concentrate fully on looking around themselves as opposed to reading from a page.

Ultimately then, the current concept is to make your ipod your "Guide Pod". Nowadays, when businessmen go abroad, the third item of technology that they allegedly pack, after their Laptops and Blackberries, are their iPods. With leisure travelers you can remove Laptops and Blackberries from the list. The idea is simple then: to utilise what you already have in your pocket to help you get more out of the city in which you are living, staying and walking.

The Future of "Guide Pods" and MP3 City Guides

There is no doubt that the idea of audio city-specific information will continue to grow in the coming years. In early 2007 8 million UK residents regularly downloaded and/or listened to podcasts, whilst museum and gallery audioguide producers such as Antenna are producing more and more content for growing client lists. But will the iPod and MP3 player still be key in how the information is presented and received? This is unlikely with the evolution of the mobile phone and PDA. Networks providers and handset producers are both seeking ways to improve their products, making them yet more indespensable to the average user. One way in which this will happen is by enabling the user to know not only where they are at any given time, with the help of mapping devices and GPS, but also to understand what attractions, features, sites and opportunities exist around them. The city will become more interactive and our aim is to ensure that not all the content is commercial and promotional, but also cultural, amusing and memorable.

So where does this leave StrollOn, MP3 City Guides, the Travel Industry and you, the potential user?

It leaves us all in the same place, at various points along a learning curve, trying to decide with which forms of new travel technology and media of travel information distribution should we acquaint ourselves and when. At the moment this continues to be the computer and internet, but soon it will be the mobile phone or PDA. In the meantime, StrollOn is using popular, widely available and easy-to-use technology to make city sightseeing into the most accessible, interactive and enjoyable experience that readily available modern technology allows. The revolution in travel information distribution and presentation is well underway; it is time that we all started to embrace the change. The Guidebook is dead; long live the GuidePod.

In the meantime, StrollOn...

No comments:

A World of Audio guides, Walks and iPods

About StrollOn

Hello and welcome to StrollOn, where we produce audio guides and audio tours of London, Paris and an ever-expanding list of major european cities. We have also developed our free city overviews and "Hot spots" (individual audio commentaries for individual sights and attractions). Whichever product interests you we simply ask that you select the relevant audio guide or audio tour on our website and download the mp3 files onto your iPod or other mp3 player, thereby turning your iPod into your "GuidePod".

As you will see from the this blog, we are a new company, providing recently developed products on our website. We've set up this blog so that we can tell you all about us as you join us from our infancy. And we are actively looking for feedback, both on the website and the blog. We don't want you to help us simply to become the biggest, but we do want you to help us become the best walking audio tours company.