October 21, 2013

DeLorme keeping up with a revolution

The Yarmouth-based mapping company puts new emphasis on the world of digital products, but yes, it’s still making paper maps.

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When the news broke last week that Yarmouth-based mapping firm DeLorme had laid off 10 workers as part of a shift toward technology-based products, some of its loyal paper-atlas customers freaked out a bit.

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Kirsten Boettcher, GIS technician at DeLorme, uses track points from an inReach to enhance data on her computer of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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DeLorme’s facility in Yarmouth features the giant rotating globe “Eartha.” The hand-held device below is an inReach, the company’s most recently released technology product, which can be used to send and receive text messages anywhere on Earth.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The company started getting calls from people worried that it was shifting to a digital-only business model, executives said.

That’s far from the case, said Kim Stiver, vice president of marketing at DeLorme, which started out publishing the Maine Atlas & Gazetteer in 1976 and has since evolved into a high-tech company.

“Just because it’s paper doesn’t mean it’s going away,” Stiver said.

The company has a variety of map products, and a different set of competitors for each type of product it sells.

The competition for paper atlases includes major publishers such as Rand McNally, Merriam-Webster and Oxford University Press.

Producers of digital maps for the home computer include heavy hitters such as Microsoft and Google.

Competing mobile GPS communication and rescue device makers include Magellan, Garmin and Spot LLC.

When it comes to mobile devices, the number of firms developing map-based applications is too many to count, one map expert said.

Patrick Kennelly, co-director of the Mobile GIS App Development Program at LIU Post university on Long Island in New York, said there are still ample opportunities to combine mapmaking and software development.

Mobile digital technology is driving a renaissance in cartography, said Kennelly, a geography professor.

“It has really made maps so accessible,” he said. “It has made a lot more people mapmakers.”

There are apps that map out restaurant locations, crime rates, schools, homes for sale, and hundreds of other geographic features. Kennelly said it’s the ease with which such maps can be produced and updated that has led to their proliferation.

“Maps really aren’t the kind of static documents they used to be,” he said.

DeLorme never has stopped making paper atlases and maps, which remain a steady part of the business, Stiver said.

But it also has been a leader in the development of several technology products, including CD-ROMs, automatic routing, mobile apps, hand-held GPS systems and satellite messaging devices for outdoor adventurers. The company holds 17 patents for a variety of technologies.

Like most industries, mapmaking has adjusted to changes in what technology can do and what consumers want, business experts said.

In his 2013 book “On the Map,” author Simon Garfield argues that the digital revolution has transformed the way people use maps more than any other technological advancement since prehistoric humans first scratched out rough depictions of their surroundings on the walls of caves.

“The Internet has effected an extraordinary and significant change,” Garfield writes. “Now we each stand, individually, at the center of our own map worlds. On our computers, phones and cars, we plot a route not from A to B but from ourselves ... to anywhere of our choosing.”

The impact of information technology on DeLorme has been equally dramatic, its executives said.

DeLorme’s foray into the digital world occurred in 1991, when it released Street Atlas USA, one of the first CD-ROM products of any kind for consumers.

According to DeLorme, a privately owned company that does not disclose financial information, Street Atlas USA was a huge success that helped establish the entire consumer CD-ROM industry.

“The decision to put a map on CD-ROM was the first step toward being a tech company,” said Jim Skillings, DeLorme’s vice president of commercial products.

But the two technologies that have affected DeLorme most as a business are satellite communications and the Internet.

DeLorme’s most recently released technology product, launched earlier this year, is inReach SE, a hand-held device that boasts the ability to send and receive text messages anywhere on Earth, from the Amazon jungle to the South Pole.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Judy Gilbert, DeLorme map store associate, sells the latest edition of the Maine Atlas & Gazetteer to Anne Hess of Stillwater. The Atlas & Gazetteers and other paper map products still account for about 15 to 20 percent of the company’s product sales, according to Jim Shillings, vice president of commercial products.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Jon McPherson assembles an inReach SE in the manufacturing center at DeLorme in Yarmouth on Friday.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Jon McPherson assembles an inReach SE in the manufacturing center at DeLorme in Yarmouth.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Jim Shillings, vice president of commercial products, and Shannon Garrity, data production manager, talk about the future of DeLorme in front of Eartha, the massive globe that was recently refurbished,

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer


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