Saturday, 13 June 2009

How WH Smith is conspiring to spoil our holidays

Forgive me if I tune out from the Saturday interviews with Peter Mandelson and David Miliband. But the really outrageous news of the day is that WH Smith, which has a monopoly in many rail stations and airports, has decided to bar sales of the excellent Time Out guides, which have helped me navigate not only many cities but their restaurants and jazz clubs, and the usually reliable Lonely Planet in favour of the ghastly insipid alternatives produced by Penguin, including Dorling Kindersley.

It is like they decided the only newspaper they would sell in future is the Daily Mail or the only magazine on offer would be Hello. This is an utterly disgraceful abuse of monopoly power, and the British Guild of Travel Writers is absolutely right to draw it to our attention with their demand for a boycott of WH Smith.

As Jolyon Attwool highlights in the Daily Telegraph, the excuse offered is pathetic.
And WH Smith, in one of the most weasel-worded justifications heard for a long time, claims that the customer is its main concern: "We are trying to simplify our range…so it is easier for customers to find a suitable product."

What might be even more effective than a boycott would be an investigation by the Competition Commission. If they think it an outrage that BAA is allowed to run so many airports, it is just as scandalous that tourists and travellers are forced to rely on the dreadfully inspipid Dorling Kindersley guides or the passe Rough Guides rather than Time Out. This is a sure way to spoil people's holidays and it must be stopped. Now.

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