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Frommer’s 83-year-old founder back in charge

Google ownership over, new guides coming in Oct.

Arthur Frommer (left) and David Steinberger, the CEO of Perseus Books. A Perseus division will distribute and help market the new Frommer travel guides.

Chester Higgins Jr./New York Times

Arthur Frommer (left) and David Steinberger, the CEO of Perseus Books. A Perseus division will distribute and help market the new Frommer travel guides.

NEW YORK — When Google bought the Frommer’s brand of travel guides in August, it was an unlikely union of old and new, of paper and pixels.

It didn’t last long.

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Arthur Frommer, the 83-year-old founder of the company, announced in April that he had bought the brand back from Google Inc., which did not publish any Frommer’s guidebooks.

Now he is moving quickly to release his first batch of titles in October under a new name, FrommerMedia.

In an interview Friday, Frommer said he had struck a deal with Publishers Group West, a member of Perseus Books Group, to distribute and help market the books, a major step in reviving the publishing machine of one of the most renowned brands in the travel industry.

“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” Frommer said. “I’m working hard to bring them back to what they were.”

Frommer, often considered the father of the travel-guide business, wrote and published his first guide, “The G.I.’s Guide to Traveling in Europe,” when he was a young Army corporal living in Berlin.

‘There’s the availability of free information on the Internet . . . But you can still have a very successful business if you have the right brand and the right content.’

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That guide, turned into a book called “Europe on $5 a Day,” became a huge success. Several years later, after a brief career practicing law, Frommer began publishing more travel books, building it to be a leader in the industry.

For many years, Frommer said, the Frommer’s books made up close to 25 percent of all the travel guides sold in the United States.

He has not had direct control over the Frommer’s guides for decades. In 1977, Frommer’s was sold to Simon & Schuster and later acquired by John Wiley & Sons. (Frommer remained involved as a consultant.)

Last year, Google paid about $23 million for the brand, saying that it would incorporate the Frommer’s content from its books, mobile apps, and website into local reviews.

This year, it sold the company back to Frommer for an undisclosed price. By the end of 2014, Frommer expects to release as many as 80 titles. Frommer and his daughter, Pauline, will be copresidents of the company.

A new series, called EasyGuides, is an answer to the increasingly lengthy travel guides on the market, which Frommer says are too long to be practical.

The Frommers are restarting the publication of the guides at a difficult time in the travel-book business. Sales of guides have been in decline for years, publishers said, under pressure from free websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and VirtualTourist.

“There’s the availability of free information on the Internet, and there’s the fewer number of brick-and-mortar stores,” said David Steinberger, chief executive of Perseus Books Group.

“But you can still have a very successful business if you have the right brand and the right content.”

Travel guides have also failed to pick up the e-book sales that could compensate for print losses; reference books are still lagging far behind most other categories, especially fiction, in e-book sales.

Frommer said he believed that in a time in which user-generated content is pervasive, there is also a demand for carefully edited information by a trusted source.

“I think there’s been a reaction to the user generation source of travel information,” he said.

Most of the newly issued Frommer’s guides will be written by freelancers who live in the cities they are reviewing — unlike online reviews elsewhere, which might be written by “people who have been to one hotel in Paris in their lives.”

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