Thursday, April 9, 2009
The Guidebook Controversy in France
Recently there have been a few notices about the practice of non-local authors publishing comprehensive guidebooks to areas in Spain and France. This was recently discussed in Grimper Magazine where such non-native authors are described as "pirates" and "vampires." Here is the text in Fench and a translation of a leaflet left on windshields at local climbing areas:
Nous essayons de financer le matériel utilisé (goujons, colle, relais, perforateurs...) par la vente des topos locaux : "Escalades autour du Ventoux", "Buoux", "Dentelles de Montmirail"...
C'est pourquoi nous vous remercions d'acheter le topo local et de ne pas utiliser les autres topos (éditions Rockfax, Avignon soleil Jingo Woobly, Rotpunkt Mistral, Edisud... en particulier) qui profitent de notre travail à des fins purement mercantiles et sans aucun reversement en contrepartie pour l'entretien ou le développement des sites.
Merci de votre compréhension.
We try to finance the gear (bolts, glue, chains, drills...) through the sale of local topos: Climbing in the Ventoux, Buoux, Dentelles de Montmirail... This is why we ask you to buy the local topo and not to use other topos (such as Rockfax, etc. in particular) who profit from our work for purely business motives and without giving anything back for the maintenance or development of the areas. Thanks for your uderstanding.
On the whole I am sympathetic to the desires of the local climbers to in some way recoup some of the expense of equipping the cliff. My wife and I have travelled and climbed in the Vaucluse and bought some of the books that the leaflet speaks of. However they are not very good books. They are expensive, and often lack much in the way of illustration, good directions, or recommendations. The text is primarily in French which is an issue for the vast majority of visitors. On several occasions after considerable trouble we would find ourselves at truly sub-par cliffs overgrown with vines featuring 80s style bolts spaced every 15 feet. After our last trip, we had pretty much decided never to climb in the Vaucluse region again as it was clear that the best areas were not being publicized and we couldn't find better information in an accessible form. It should be added that climbing shops are very few and far between in this region and other modes of distribution are erratic.
The solution is pretty clear to me. The local climbing associations and tourist offices have to make a concerted effort to produce high quality "official" guides that clearly work to attract visitors to the region. The constant threat of car break-ins (fortunately didn't happen to us), erratic quality of climbing, and spotty information make it no surprise to me that Provence has slid in popularity in climbing tourism. While the folks at Rockfax, et al have a commercial interest in selling guides, they also produce guides that actually work and are pleasing to look through. They have thought about the needs of visiting climbers who don't have very much time to sift through the less desirable routes and area by trial and error. The locals need to do the same.
By the way, before adding any more comments on this topic please read this post by Adrian Berry who is actually doing a guidebook in the south of France. All his arguments make great sense to me. Also read the Rockfax Access page for their view of the situation.
Here is a link showing that Americans are apparently not the only arrogant ones.
And one more link on this apparently inexhaustible topic.