Friday, June 20, 2014

The Last Days Of The Brochure

The hoteliers in the bay of Alcúdia clubbed together in order to produce a magazine for this summer season. Its name, unoriginally, is "Bahia". It's a nice enough publication, but why did they bother? Why, in this day and age, would you go to the trouble of introducing a new publication and printing it when all the information is or can be made available online?

The magazine forms part of a wider discussion of print versus digital for tourism and travel information, and with much of what is printed, it is a case of perpetuating what has existed for years. Longevity in printed form isn't in itself a strong reason for continuation, so there has to be another reason for still bothering with the printing presses, be the publication new or old. And that reason is a pretty simple one. Demand.

One of the more obvious types of tourism publication that would seem destined for being consigned to print history is the travel brochure. What's the point of it any longer? The information is readily available digitally and the holiday is readily bookable online. Moreover, the nature of the market is such that prices are flexible. Print is not flexible. Put a price on a holiday and no sooner is the brochure available than it is out of date.

The fact is, however, that, despite technological advances, the majority of holidaymakers still make bookings with the aid of a brochure. The majority may be dwindling to the point that it is becoming a minority, but roughly 50% of tourists (British ones, it should be pointed out) have yet to be convinced to abandon the brochure's traditional attractions.  

The demand is still there. But is it because half the population remain wedded to print and averse to the internet? That seems unlikely. More likely are the facts that brochures are of course free and that an armful of them make for a pleasant way to while away a wet winter's afternoon dreaming of summer sun. And there is the further fact that brochures, as with other publications, are physical and aesthetic comfort blankets in an age of constant media upheaval, change and innovation.

Not all old technology just fades away. Some of it, the more transient of technology, does. The Walkman is an example. It was usurped and no longer served any purpose. But print is not transient. It is so ingrained in the collective psyche and culture that it is most unlikely that it will ever fade away. There again, for all of those who remember the good old and much more straightforward days of brochure hunting and browsing, there are also those who have no such nostalgia: if it ain't digital, it ain't worth looking at.

Travel agencies are going to try their damnedest to ensure that the brochure doesn't go the way of all Walkmans. Without brochures, their businesses would be stripped of a large chunk of their reason for existing. But they may have to face up to realities. The brochure probably will fade away. And sooner rather than later.

With its passing would go years of travel tradition. And that tradition, where Mallorca is concerned, goes back to 1908, for it was in that year that the Mallorca Tourist Board produced its first brochure.

The decision to publish a brochure had been taken at the end of 1906. One reason why it took until July 1908 for it to appear was the cover. This required that someone did a painting. Faust Morell Bellet was the chosen painter, and he chose a scene of Palma as seen from El Jonquet. The brochure was printed in Switzerland, which may have been because the Swiss were well versed in the requirements of tourism; people used to go to Switzerland on their holidays back then.

It was printed in Castellano and French (an English version came out the next year), and the French version tells us what the prevailing notion of tourism was in 1908. Although Miquel Sants del Oliver had seen a future in summer tourism, the brochure proudly announced "Majorque, station d'hiver"; Mallorca, winter resort.

Other brochures followed, and they weren't all as lavish as the 1908 one. It had, after all, cost 2,816 Swiss Francs for 20,000 copies. The word "brochure" was in fact adopted to refer to a low-cost, reduced-quality publication. The first of these featured a grainy photo of the Caves of Drach on its cover. For its French audience, the brochure told them that the "ideal" winter resort of Mallorca was only 36 hours from Paris.

The future of the brochure hangs precariously from an ever shortening thread. When the thread finally snaps, all that will be left will be this nostalgia. One for the days when a photo meant a painter labouring long over one scene rather than the moments' effort of brightening, saturating and filtering with Photoshop.

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