ITMB Publishing Ltd., which is just a formal way of saying International Travel Maps and Books, began as a partnership between a frustrated Australian cartographer who loved South America (and railed against the inadequacies of maps of that continent) and a Canadian map distributor and retailer who was equally frustrated by the lack of maps related to South America for his customers. That was in 1983, when only cartographic houses in Europe published international travel maps and then only of areas of significant travel interest to Europeans. Thus, one could find excellent maps of Malta or the Costa Brava, but exceptionally little related to Africa or Asia, and virtually nothing of countries in Central and South America.
The two bright sparks who spent two weeks together in Vancouver planning to map an entire continent had no money, no resources, and no thought as to how (or by whom) these wonderful maps of South America would be published. It was assumed that established map publishers would love to have maps of the southern portion of the western hemisphere. The cartographer, Kevin Healey, and the businessman, Jack Joyce, blissfully unaware that what they were planning to do was deemed to be completely and utterly mad, if not impossible, self-published, with a very supportive British publisher, Bradt Publications, a two-sheet map of South America at 1:5,000,000 scale in 1985, using artwork previously published by Kevin. Sales provided funds to keep Kevin in peanut butter until the next title (North West South America at 1:4,000,000) was ready to be shown to European map publishers in 1986. Jack duly presented it to every cartographic publishing house in Europe in the hopes that one of them would 'snap it up'. The memory of the howls of derision and contempt expressed by these firms at the effrontery of two 'colonials' thinking they could make maps, remains fresh twenty years later.
Most publishers refused even to look at the artwork; one even turned his back on Jack while they were talking and blithely started a conversation with a colleague. Only one publisher, Rudiger Bosse of Ravenstein Verlag, was encouraging, although he too gave five very good and logical reasons explaining why ITM's attempt was foredoomed to fail.
Twenty years later, ITMB is one of the largest and most successful map publishing houses in the world, with more than 250 titles in print of countries and cities around the world, another 35 under development, and an average of two new maps being published each week.
Kevin was a brilliantly artistic cartographer whose titles transcended technical excellence and became sort of works of art. To this day, no one has approached his level of quality or detail - and I'm not just saying that as his publisher. His South America map was just retired in 2005, after a quarter century in print, and still forms the base of the new map.
The key to our success was the release of our first country map in 1990, Costa Rica, just as tourism to that country started to explode. Other beautiful creations followed, flowing from Kevin's fertile vision - Belize, Baja California, Mexico, BC's Queen Charlotte Islands, Yucatan Peninsula, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela. Suddenly, ITMB was a recognized name and we found ourselves filling a niche that everyone else had ignored.
Perhaps because neither partner was sophisticated in the perceived realities of how maps were supposed to be prepared (the "It was good enough for my grandfather" mentality dominated publishing at that time), or because they 'lucked' upon a business structure that made sense, ITMB started gathering a coterie of excellent independent cartographers and joint venture partners who shared ITMB's growing conviction that long term success would come from sharing production costs and marketing under a common cover, regardless of ownership. Thus, ITMB worked out a joint venture agreement with the Government of Vietnam in 1992 that created a definitive travel map of that country, plus detailed maps of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and the Mekong Delta, that have helped open the doors of tourism for that country. We now have our own production facility in Hanoi.
Perhaps the story of ITMB's growth is getting ahead of itself. The actual reality is that ITMB has struggled for years to produce and market maps of countries and cities that relatively few people visit. Maps of South American travel destinations have, after all, a limited and finite appeal. Also, they sell reasonably well from September to May, but sales are slower during the rest of the year. Kevin and Jack realized pretty quickly that ITMB needed something more than excellent Latino titles to bring in revenue during the 'off' season to stave off starvation.
In 1989, Bob Peart of British Columbia's Outdoor Recreation Council approached Jack with the idea of preparing maps of selected areas of recreational significance in BC for publishing. The ORC would pay the development costs and own the films, but ITMB would publish the maps and market them. Jack arranged with two cartographers, David Sami and Gyan Verma, who prepared the artwork for the recreational maps, using material provided by the ORC and the provincial government. A dozen titles were produced before the ORC changed direction. ITMB now publishes its own series of BC recreational titles.
Another Canadian cartographer, Eric Leinberger, joined us in 1996, producing our maps of Australia and New Zealand and a special series of maps interpreting Canada to map users - Western Canada, Alberta/BC, and Atlantic Canada.
In 1999, Andrew Duggan, of Toronto, joined us to focus on a new series - Cities of the World. His first two titles, Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aries, Argentina, led to Santiago de Chile, Istanbul, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and a growing series of American city titles. ITMB is now the world’s leading publisher of international ‘world class’ cities, with 71 titles in print and twenty more in production. Andrew is still preparing half a dozen titles for us each year, and is about to embark on an extended trip around the world, gathering information for a dozen new titles that he has been commissioned to prepare in Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Our joint venture with the Government of Vietnam has blossomed into a production facility in Hanoi controlled by ITMB, using half a dozen groups of dedicated cartographers that are churning out marvelous maps of exotic travel destinations in Asia. We are now using GIS technology quite a bit in making maps and training our cartographers in Vietnam in the use of this new technology.
Stephen Stringall and Gary Sawyer joined us in 1993 to prepare a map of Alaska, which, by the way, anchors our growing North American series of titles. Stephen then concentrated on Africa and created more than two dozen titles of this almost unmapped continent. ITMB has dedicated itself to the challenge of mapping Africa comprehensively over the next decade, with three titles per year being planned for production. Gary prepared the ITM maps of Antarctica and Antigua. Both have now moved on.
Michaela Fritz, who produced ITMB's award-winning Rwanda/Burundi map, developed the title as a cartographic student in Germany and refined it for publishing by ITMB upon graduation. Torsten Claussen's map of Sierra Leone, also initially prepared as a graduating thesis, was re-worked by him into its current published format after graduating. Kevin Philip developed maps of Swaziland and Harare. Emerging GIS technology will gradually fill in the gaps in the ‘dark’ continent.
Frank Gubasta produced a map of the Florida Keys for us, then a series of maps on the three Guianas, and then Florida. Frank also prepared our popular Puerto Rico map. We are now using US government GIS data to prepare a series of regional and State maps of various areas of the USA. Andrew Duggan has completed seven city maps of some of the 35 urban areas we are developing for the USA over the next few years.
ITMB has now completed 25 years in business, and has evolved from a couple of incompetents naively deciding to map an entire continent to a professional cartographic publishing house mapping the world – one little piece at a time. We use the latest technology, do our level best to ensure that our maps are the best that can be published, and assertively stake out the entire world for mapping and marketing. We are aggressively mapping Europe and competing for market share with established European publishers. By 2005, we had 41 titles on the continent in print. ITMB has 56 titles on Latin America, 71 world class city maps in print, 25 titles on Asia, and another 30 on North America – with more new and exciting titles being released each week.
The most painful aspect of ITMB has been left for the last. In 1994, having just completed a beautiful map of Venezuela, Kevin Healey died of heart failure at age 48. Not only was a brilliant cartographic talent cut off in his prime, he was the soul of ITMB and the mentor to the other cartographers. Furthermore, his intimate knowledge of South America and his focused concentration on productivity were legendary. As a business partner, his contribution was crucial to ITMB's success. The relationship joining Kevin and Jack transcended normal business conduct and his death had a profound affect on the structure of the company. Imagine, if you would, Gilbert carrying on without Sullivan, or Rolls without Royce (or, if you prefer, Abbott without Costello). The magic guiding ITMB was the unswerving conviction that what the team was producing was beautiful, accurate, and necessary. Whether or not it made money was not considered. For ten years, the firm's fundamental goal had been to map South America; all else was seen as a means to that end.
Suddenly, the one person who could realize that vision was gone. It was devastating on a personal and on a corporate level. It was left to Jack to restructure ITMB and carry on, somewhat sadly, the formidable challenge of mapping the unknown continent of South America, with no one in place to take over the daunting task of filling the master’s cartographic shoes.
A new master was found, expectedly. Thanks to my interest in promoting travel to Vietnam, I visited that lovely country in 1992. My assigned minder, Do Ngoc Lan, a cartographer and printer working in the government’s cartographic printing office, proved to be irresistible. We married in Hanoi in 1995 and she arrived in Vancouver to find that chaos reigned supreme in ITMB. Over the next decade, she tamed the cartographic monster and developed production facilities that operate smoothly all over the world, whipping electronic files from Russia to Vancouver to Toronto to Vietnam and cowing printers from China to England to Korea with her superb grasp of print technology.
ITMB is the most international cartographic house anywhere, with production and marketing arrangements operating in parts of the world that most of us don’t even realize exist. Much of ITMB’s success lies with Lan, with her ability to grasp the essence of a concept and develop it with teams of colleagues who hardly know what she is talking about into a finished piece of artwork that becomes a published map before anyone realizes what is happening. Lan and Kevin were on opposite mapping teams during the American/Vietnam War. They never met. How remarkable that two such strong-willed individuals seized a vision of mapping an entire world, an impossible concept exceeding anyone’s grasp, and realized it over a lifetime’s dedication to interpreting the world using rapidly-changing technology.
David Sami assumed the responsibility of updating Kevin's eighteen titles and Volker Schniepp of Germany agreed to prepare maps of Uruguay and Tierra del Fuego to become more knowledgeable about the continent. He completed these two difficult titles and spent the next seven years completing our new map of Peru. A new cartographer in Asia agreed to prepare Paraguay, and Frank Gubasta completed the Guianas. Kevin's research material on Brasil was completed by David Sami and Lan Joyce to create his last cartographic release. Andrew Duggan has taken on the task of mapping the continent's cities. Now, GIS technology is revolutionizing how maps are made and improving accuracy precision. We are training a new generation of younger cartographers to re-design all our maps to make them even more accurate and informative in the future.
The names and faces may be changing, but ITMB's commitment to mapping South America top to bottom continues unabated. By late 2005, every country except Chile had been completed, and Lan had developed the best digital data base of the continent in the world. Chile, the last and most difficult country to map in South America, has begun and should be completed in 2006. As well, a large team of cartographers in Europe, Asia, and North America, spent three years preparing a continental data base to prepare for the day that Kevin’s masterpiece reference map of South America would have to be replaced. That day arrived in 2005 and culminated in a brilliant new continental reference map being published in October that retained the best of Kevin’s love of detail at an improved scale on a larger piece of paper. This new artwork is a true ‘world’ map, with dedicated contributions by cartographers around the world, coordinated by Lan, ITMB’s Head of Production. She has now started preparing a detailed digital data base of all of Africa, which she expects to complete by 2010.
More can be said, but this should give you an idea that ITMB is not just another ho-hum company. Sure, we need to make money to carry on our business, so there is a charge for our products, but anyone who thinks that we make gobs of money out of selling maps of the Falkland Islands or Eritrea or BC's Thompson/Cariboo Country is welcome to try and duplicate our efforts. There is a reason why, to this day, so many of ITMB's titles remain as unique items: market demand is so limited that every other publishing house ignores them We will continue mapping the world, one little piece at a time, as long as people like yourself continue to find our maps and books interesting and useful. In the past decade, more than a million and a half ITMB maps were sold, in more than 5,000 stores worldwide, using 65 international distributors. That’s 30,000 maps being sold each and every month, year after year.
Now, using the web, more individuals than ever can find out more about our publications. This web page, hopefully, has told you something about who we are and why we do what we do. If you wish more information, please contact me, Jack, by fax or e-mail. You can subscribe, for free, to our new titles press releases and our Axis of Evil Mapping Newsletter (why should George W. Bush monopolize the concept?) and keep on top of mapping innovations that are transforming our perception of the world. Furthermore, it is fun. Every map we publish has its own story, its own trauma and drama, and its own funny story, and you can share in the task of contributing your expertise to the world mapping project.
I’m as excited about the next twenty-five years as I have been enthusiastic throughout the past twenty-five. It took a quarter century to reach the 250 title mark. Five more projects are at press, 35 more in active production, 85 on our futures ‘wish’ list, and dozens of other opportunities coming down the line (CDs, globes, maps of famous rivers, canal maps, mountain climbing maps, continental maps, digital data bases, Moon maps, Mars maps – I have to stop, I’m hyper-ventilating!) The next quarter century is going to be more exciting and more innovative than anything in the past. How long is it going to take us to reach 500 titles? Hmmm, better talk with Lan……
Jack Joyce, Pres., ITMB Publishing Ltd., and passionate map maker who can’t draw a straight line, but has ground-truthed 150 countries.