I’m not quite sure what to think about this. The Publican reported today that the highly respected and nearly 30-year old UK Good Pub Guide is going to begin charging pubs to be included in the guide. Starting with next year’s edition, fees to be included “will be either £99 or £199, depending on the size of the outlet.” The current issue includes over 5,000 listings, so that would mean future books would realize between £500,000 and £1,000,000 (or between $800,900 and $1.6 million dollars).
The reason for the charge is explained by editor Fiona Stapley, and it’s just what you’d expect. “Putting together a guide like this is quite expensive and we are looking at the business model. More and more guides like this are charging. She added that the judging criteria would remain the same and pubs would still have to reach the same standards to gain a listing.”
And yes, I’m sure that it is expensive to put the book together. Having been involved in publishing for a lot of years, I don’t doubt that it’s become increasingly pricey to produce the book. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is necessarily the best fix. As Stapley states, “more and more guides like this are charging.” Maybe, but I have a hard time believing by doing so they maintain the same level of integrity and independence. The most obvious problem would come when some, or perhaps a lot, of pubs choose not to spend the money. After all, a lot of pubs in the UK are struggling to stay afloat. As a result, the “Good Pub Guide” could become the “Good Pubs Willing to Pay the Fee Guide.” It would no longer be complete. Undoubtedly, many successful pubs would feel compelled to pay in order to not have their business suffer from being excluded. Whenever that happens — and however perfectly legal — it would still be hard not to see it as de facto extortion.
Could they charge pubs to be included and then remain independent in their reviews? I’m sure it’s possible. After all, magazines that accept advertising do it all the time. But this seems slightly different insofar as this is paying to be in a guidebook whose sole purpose it to provide impartial reviews of each pub’s quality and worthiness. Even if they started out with the best of intentions, it seems very likely, to me at least, that over time the pubs that are paying would come to expect something in return for their continued support and the dynamic of the publication would change. And increasingly, pubs that should be recommended would come to not be included just because they balked at the idea of paying for the privilege. That would do a grave disservice to both those good pubs and the potential customers using the guidebook to find them. No matter how hard they tried to remain impartial, it just feels like it would still create an undesirable perception of the potential for misconduct. What do you think? Inevitable and unconcerning or a death blow to impartiality?