22 September 2009

Maps Are Not Buggy Whips

For many of us toiling in the paper map business, it's been tough sledding ever since MapQuest introduced the masses to online maps and directions in the mid-90s, and the advent of affordable in-car navigation systems (also known as GPS or SatNav) and more recently navigation via smart phones.

These technologies have compelling features, and are typically inexpensive or free. It's apparent that many consumers no longer feel the need to own paper maps.

It's important for we map producers to remember that our products are not akin to buggy whips. Buggy whips became useless when horse-drawn carriages were replaced by the automobile. Paper maps and atlases retain the same functionality as they have always enjoyed.

While it's true that digital maps and software can perform some tasks faster and more easily than a paper map, there are drawbacks.

I don't want to suggest that the decline in sales of street and road maps and atlases can necessarily be reversed, but at the least we should be making our case for the usefulness of our product in marketing, product covers and displays in a way that might resonate with the public.

Eventually, those who have moved totally to digital solutions will experience equipment failure, difficulty finding a good re-route around traffic, a desire to know where they are in some kind of context, the ability to plan future trips with rich information.

Let's be there when they begin to again appreciate the value of paper maps.

01 September 2009