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.


buggy said...

I think you should read "The innovator's delimma". The general jist is that technological improvement outstrips market demand and that companies fail because they continue to chase there biggest and best clients. Eventually they wake up one morning with only a few clients who are now considering the newer technology too. I think a similar thing applies here. The buggy whip still has value but there is virtually no market for it. A similar thing is happening with maps. As more phones include GPS with street maps there will be less demand for street directories and dedicated GPS systems. Print maps will become specialist items (like large maps for school walls). This market will be a lot smaller then one day computer screens will be good enough and cheap enough that schools install those so that the posters can be changed to suite the current class (maps for geography, post in French for French class, etc). It might not happen over night but it will happen.

Eric Riback said...

But the buggy whip did not have function once the car came along (except perhaps in kinky settings). The road and street maps still are functional, but the marketplace is not valuing them as much as in the past. The other thing that happened is that the traditional publishers were effectively locked out of the new technologies. But in your example of large screens (i.e. smart boards) replacing large maps in school, there's no reason why the traditional publishers such as Nystrom or National Geographic cannot continue to provide that content under a new business model.

chitownclark said...

I agree with Eric. And allow me to add two other considerations: Cost and Quality. In the US we're becoming more and more cost limited...the price of a service is becoming a real consideration. Which is cheaper...a reusable paper map? Or a smart phone/board?

And printed maps are much higher quality too. Which has more detail: an older paper USGS quad map? Or the newer digital USGS maps? The comparison is almost criminal!