8:56 p.m. | Updated SAN FRANCISCO â€” Google made another foray into producing original content Monday when it announced its plans to buy the Frommerâ€™s brand of travel guides from John Wiley Sons to augment its local and travel search results.
Google will pay about $23 million for the brand, according to a person close to the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly about the terms. The companies declined to comment on the purchase price. It is a small acquisition for Google, but important for several of Googleâ€™s up-and-coming businesses.
The deal shows how crucial a business local search and reviews are for Google. It is also the latest evidence that Google is trying to transform itself into a media company â€” making its mission not just to show the most relevant links from around the Web, but to produce that information as well.
â€œIn certain key areas now, theyâ€™ve seen the value of having content and how important it is to consumers,â€ said Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, who studies local online media. â€œFrommerâ€™s is even more content-richâ€ than previous acquisitions by Google, he said.
Google has long insisted that it would not create content but simply be a conduit for it. In a 2010 interview, Eric E. Schmidt, who was Googleâ€™s chief executive then but is now chairman, said the company was â€œcareful to define a line where we donâ€™t cross into contentâ€ and wanted to remain a â€œneutral platform for content and applications.â€
But Google started chipping away at that line as early as 2008, when it started Knol, a Wikipedia competitor it has since closed. Googleâ€™s YouTube division has acquired and financed producers of original video content, and last year Google bought Zagat, which publishes restaurant reviews.
Google is not the only technology company trying to expand its reach in this way. Yahoo, AOL, Amazon.com, Apple and Netflix have all shown signs of wanting to become media companies to varying degrees.
But Google is walking a tricky line, which antitrust regulators are watching closely. When it produces its own content, it competes with other Web sites instead of being just a neutral organizer of information. Search for what to do in Hawaii, for instance, and Google could show results from Frommerâ€™s ahead of TripAdvisor links.
â€œGoogle is perceived as this competitor that has the potential to favor its own search results,â€ Mr. Sterling said. â€œThat remains very much to be seen, but thatâ€™s the narrative they continue to play into.â€
Google has said repeatedly that it does not favor its own services in producing search results, but the issue is one of the central ones being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in an antitrust review of Google.
â€œOur goal with local search is to help people find the local information they need â€” as quickly and easily as possible,â€ Google said in a statement Monday. â€œAt times, we think the best result is to direct a user to some other site or product, and each day we send millions of customer referrals through our search products.â€
With the acquisition, Google is also becoming a competitor to publishers, said Hugh McGuire, founder of PressBooks.com, an e-book production tool.
â€œPublishers should be worried about it,â€ Mr. McGuire said. â€œWhatâ€™s happening is that weâ€™re going to start seeing a lot more business models around books that are incorporating the Internet, and publishers arenâ€™t very keen on embracing that.â€
Local search, for things like restaurants or hotels nearby, is one of Googleâ€™s growing areas of focus. In this area, it competes with Web sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Citysearch; these searches are a fruitful source of advertising dollars.
Local advertising revenue over all is expected to grow to $150 billion in 2016, from $132 billion last year, with the fastest growth occurring online and on mobile devices, according to BIA/Kelsey, a local-media research and advisory firm. Travel advertisers will spend $3.16 billion online this year, an increase of 23 percent over last year, according to eMarketer.
To take advantage of this ad spending, Google has been building local search and travel search engines. Though the content from Frommerâ€™s could eventually be used in Google travel search â€” which is built on flight search technology from ITA Software, the company that Google bought last year â€” it will now be used for Googleâ€™s local search.
Google plans to incorporate Frommerâ€™s travel content â€” which includes guides and reviews in books, a Web site and mobile apps â€” into its local reviews. Frommerâ€™s employees who remain at Google will work on the team that manages Zagat local listings and reviews.
â€œThe Frommerâ€™s team and the quality and scope of their content will be a great addition to the Zagat team,â€ Google said. â€œWe canâ€™t wait to start working with them on our goal to provide a review for every relevant place in the world.â€
Google has been trying to bolster its local listings for several years. After failing to acquire Yelp and struggling to build its own local review service, last year it bought Zagat, the publisher of the slim red restaurant guidebooks, for $151 million.
In May it unveiled a local review service, Google Plus Local, with business information and reviews from Zagat and Google users that show up in search, maps, Google Plus and mobile apps.
Google did not say whether it would maintain the Frommerâ€™s brand or continue to publish print Frommerâ€™s books. But it still uses the Zagat brand and publishes Zagat books. While Frommerâ€™s has mobile apps, travel is one of the few areas in which print books are still essential because people often do not have cellphone data access when traveling abroad.
Google also declined to comment on what will happen with companies that have worked with Frommerâ€™s to show its reviews, including Kayak and The New York Times, which licenses destination-related content from Frommerâ€™s for its Web site on an annual basis.
Julie Bosman and Evelyn M. Rusli contributed reporting from New York.
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 15, 2012
Because of an editing error, an article on Tuesday about Googleâ€™s plans to buy the Frommerâ€™s brand of travel guides misstated, in some copies, the expected growth in local advertising revenue. It is expected to increase to $150 billion over all in 2016, not to $150 billion just on the Internet.