So what’s in a date?

I was browsing through Lonely Planet’s Thorntree messageboard a few days ago and came across a handy review by Andy Brouwer of their new Guidebook to Cambodia by long-time Cambodia resident, Nick Ray. The review was pretty good — even if the comments rambled off into a typical Thorntree monotone. You can read the review here.

I popped over to the Lonely Planet store to see if Lonely Planet had finally managed to run a cover that had neither a monk nor Angkor Wat on it (no luck) and was surprised to see the book was published in August 2008. Andy seemed to suggest that he had an advance copy from Nick, so fair enough, the book wouldn’t be out till August, but then, on July 19 there’s a comment by another Thorntree poster noting they’d just picked up a copy in a Chiang Mai bookstore.

So if the book is in a Chiang Mai bookstore by mid July, it’s probably also in Bangkok bookstores and no doubt some airport bookstores in the region. Sure it probably isn’t in a family-run bookstore in Lima and it certainly isn’t in my local Bali Periplus store — but then, they never managed to get the previous edition, so I won’t hold my breath.

So what? Does anyone really care?

Probably not.

Rightly or wrongly, people use the publication date as a means to judge how up to date the book is. Last year when I was reviewing some guidebooks, I raised the question with Simone McNamara at Lonely Planet and she said:

“The pub date is the ‘on-shelf’ date for our guidebooks in the vast majority of the world. Some Asian markets are lucky to have ‘hot off the press’ books as all our printing is done in Asia and there is minimal shipping time. Typically, Asian markets are able to get the books several weeks prior to the official pub date, which is why you were able to pick up a copy of Vietnam in late July, whereas in Australia the title has only just gone on shelves this week (same goes for US / UK etc). It’s a small thing, but I thought I should clarify as there is certainly no attempt to be dishonest with our publishing schedules.”

So make of that what you will.

Personally, I would have thought that given the “Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?” debacle of earlier this year in which ex-Lonely Planet author Thomas Kohnstamm wrote about making stuff up, taking freebies and generally being the anti-lp-writer, Lonely Planet would have made that extra effort to get their facts right. (Kohnstamm’s book, by the way, is appalling).

A great improvement to this system would be for Lonely Planet to state in the half cover, perhaps on the line beneath their version of the publication date, when the research was actually undertaken — now there’s a date that would be useful — but as with my local Periplus store, don’t hold your breath.