Service stations stopped giving away road maps when they stopped giving away juice glasses, right after the Arab oil embargo of 1974. Most oil companies do not even require their dealers to sell maps now. Distributing maps has become much more complicated, as map-making companies learn to produce eye-catching covers and sell to intermediaries.
Fifteen years ago, most maps were printed with an oil company symbol or the American Automobile Assn. logo and were bought in bulk by those organizations, said Tom Pomeroy, publisher and senior vice president of San Jose-based H. M. Gousha, a Simon & Schuster map-making subsidiary.
A new marketing layer has since appeared: the independent map distributor who buys maps by the thousands from map makers and places them on store counters and in vending machines. Sales by all map makers of Southern California titles now total about 5 million maps a year, he said.
A significant proportion of maps are sold through vending machines, which sell for $175 to $230 apiece and typically hold three to six different titles, Folkers said. Vending machines in service stations are stocked by the map distributor, with the station dealer receiving a commission based on sales.
High maintenance costs make the lightweight machines only marginally profitable, Folkers said. "The only problem with map machines when you have them out in the street is that people like to tip them upside down."