BBC's Lonely Planet sell-off means less market distortion (and complaining from rival publishers)

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Since the dawn of the online age the BBC has been taking flak from some publishers for unfairly skewing the digital news market and expanding its magazines and books empire through the profit-making BBC Worldwide.

But now the Beeb is (according to B2B travel startup Skift) looking at selling its Lonely Planet portfolio, bought in 2007 for more than £80 million, to US billionaire Brad Kelley. If that happens it's one more step back by the public broadcaster from its advance into parts of the global media market that had little to do with its core purpose or existing brands.

BBC Worldwide says no such deal has been done but confirms it's been "exploring strategic options for Lonely Planet for some time now."

A review back by the BBC Trust in 2009 concluded that BBCWW should focus more closely on intellectual property from its licence-fee funded parent rather than acquire new ones. BBC Worldwide has already spun off its BBC Magazine arm - leading to the creation of Immediate Media.

The BBC trust last year reiterated that the corporation should be focussed on exploiting BBC-created IP, rather than developing its own. That appears to be exactly what's going on and that is good news for publishers.

Competing with the commercially-focused arm of such a huge licence fee-funded organisation undoubtedly makes life harder for private publishers. James Murdoch, in a pre-hacking display of News Corp propaganda, called the Lonely Planet acquisition a "particularly egregious example of the expansion of the state".

Whatever your viewpoint on the morals of public broadcasting, BBC Worldwide at its peak did have a distorting impact on the media market.

If BBC Worldwide refines its focus to getting the best return on BBC Content overseas - then private publishers will be operating on a more level playing field.

That of course has one downside: UK publishers will have one less scapegoat to blame for their ills - and will have to take greater responsiblity for their own success or failure.

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