Paper Maps Making a Comeback

Despite the explosion of digital mapping in recent times, people still seem to like the old school version too. After a long decline in popularity sales of the Ordnance Survey's paper maps have recently begun to increase - and hillwalkers look to be at least partly responsible.

There's still a place for the trusty paper map, 188 kb
There's still a place for the trusty paper map
© Dan Bailey

In line with trends in the publishing industry generally, sales of Ordnance Survey paper maps have fallen in the last ten years. But last year this trend reversed, with the mapping agency reporting a modest 3% uptick in sales for 2014. Figures for the financial year (2014-15) show a more impressive 7% increase.

It seems probable that hillwalkers are playing a part in this revival.

After all, top seller in the Explorer (1:25000) series is OL17 Snowdon, with a strong showing from the Lakes and the Peak in the top 10 too.

Meanwhile the three best selling Landrangers (1:50000) are 115 Snowdon, 90 Penrith & Keswick and 41 Ben Nevis. The two sheets covering Skye are also surprise entries in the Landranger top 10.  

Nick Giles, Managing Director of Ordnance Survey Leisure, said:

'It's great to see that sales of paper maps are increasing. We understand that the increase isn't huge; however, the significant news is the downward trend has been reversed.'

'There's an emotional attachment to OS paper maps. People love their iconic design and the feel of them in their hands. The detail contained in OS Explorer and OS Landranger maps gives users greater security and reassurance.'

'Since the turn of the century we have seen an explosion in the availability of mapping through the Internet and mobile devices. Internet mapping has been great at making maps a part of daily life, but too often it doesn't carry the detail our customers now demand. There are times when accurate geographic information is vital. This is especially true when exploring remote and rural areas, and in terms of safety and emergency situations. Hopefully people are recognising the vital role which OS paper maps play in supporting digital devices.'

Paper map sales now account for only 5% of the agency's annual revenue, but they are still investing in them and looking at ways to modernise the old fashioned map. 

This should be no surprise. As with books, it's clear that paper maps continue to have a niche alongside digital alternatives. It would be a daft hillwalker, for instance, who went out with just a smartphone and no hard copy backup map.

'We are always looking at ways of improving all of our products and as technology develops it delivers new opportunities' said Nick Giles.

'There are lots of innovations, such as augmented reality, smart paper and new production technology, which have the potential to change the paper map market.'


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