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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Avenza’s PDF Maps and Affiliate Program for Digital Natives

January 15th, 2016 by Susan Smith

In a world that is rapidly becoming less paper based and more dependent upon digital products, the introduction of a map app that copies the model of iTunes and Kindle is an appealing commodity. Avenza’s PDF Maps does just this: makes PDF maps downloadable on mobile devices to be available anywhere – while abroad, in remote areas and in the back country.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

In addition to this, Avenza has just launched its PDF Maps Affiliate Program for any retailer or business, including both online and physical stores, blogs, portals and information sites. This program makes it possible for retailers and businesses to now earn revenue by promoting and selling digital maps directly to its customers using affiliate links on websites or by using signage with QR codes. Each map sale conducted in this manner will earn the affiliate a share of the revenue.

Ted Florence, president of Avenza says,  “Everyone wants to consume their data digitally these days. This is the generation – 18-30 somethings who are the consumers of the future and that’s how they think. You have music with iTunes, books with Kindle, everything’s going digital.”

Florence also points out that big companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, and Tower Records are going out of business because of technology advances. Companies like National Geographic, Rand McNally, or Westprint, who have provided traditional paper maps historically, are now challenged by Apple, Google, TomTom, or Garmin.

Toronto map

Toronto map

People may say they don’t need the PDF Maps app because they have Google Maps on their phones already. But if you are in a national park or somewhere that doesn’t have bandwidth, the phone GPS is not going to work. A PDF map downloaded before you get out of range is going to be a real plus.

Secondly, Google Maps does not provide bathymetric maps or maps of ski trails in a given area. It is not that good for very specific map information as PDF Maps are.

Thirdly, if you are traveling to Europe, Asia or South America, roaming charges can get very expensive if you use your Google Maps or other online search while traveling. It makes sense to download a PDF Map at a hotel or Starbucks where you have connectivity, so that you can use the map to navigate outside the data roaming.

Florence says their system now has about 350 maps in it and it’s growing. “There’s been over 2 million maps downloaded and we’re averaging few hundred thousand a month all over the world. People buy maps just like buying books and with PDF Maps you pay maybe $5 for a map of London that you need. The digital map on your phone knows your location. Prague is a good example because they don’t speak English. Having a map on your phone, shows you which way you’re facing and you don’t have to carry paper.”

Avenza has publishers from all over the world, including National Geographic, branches of the U.S. Government such as the U.S. Forest Service and USGS interested in the Affiliate Program.

“How do we make it interesting for others to partner with us?” says Florence. “That’s how the Affiliate program was born. We wanted to enable websites and other online services like TripAdvisor, Expedia, United Airlines, and even some of the blogs that cater to recreational lists, to offer maps from our map store to their millions of users. Imagine how many people go to TripAdvisor every day. Imagine if there’s a link there to get a map sent directly to your phone. The customer buys it, it is delivered to their phone, and because they bought it from an affiliate such as TripAdvisor, the affiliate would get a piece of that map sale.”

Another common scenario: you buy an airline ticket from Expedia, then the airline asks do you want to rent a car, hotel, theatre tickets, tours, etc.  In addition, they can sell customers a map delivered directly to their phone.

“The Affiliate Program costs nothing,” says Florence. “We let publishers decide what they want to charge.”

There are many ways in which the Affiiliate Program can be useful to publishers and vendors. In Washington D.C. alone, at a Hilton Hotel, for example, thousands of hours a month are spent interacting with guests to give them a free paper map and directions. If there was a QR scan code at the hotel for PDF Maps, guests could get a map delivered to their phones and not take up as much time at the information desk.

Rather than alienating the brick-and- mortar businesses such as Borders, etc.. Avenza wants to enable retailers to participate in the digital economy of the map business. Avenza envisions having digital maps available in such places as airports, REI, Cabelas and other places where people would most likely be interested in acquiring maps.

As an aside, the National Geographic Society has been a big user of GIS for many years. Gary Nell, formerly of Sesame Street and NPR and currently CEO of National Geographic, spoke at Esri UC last year about journalist Paul Solomon, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting. Solomon’s claim to fame is that he has walked from Herto Bouri, Ethiopia and plans to hit the tip of Ushuaia, Argentina in 2020. His goal is to retrace the path of human migration across the entire earth in his “Eden Walk.”

“40% of kids under age 2 are using smartphones and tablets regularly,” said Nell. “This isn’t going away. Kids are digital natives. They will never know the world without it. We need to figure out real world apps that relate to them.”

Clearly PDF Maps is a way to go in the “real world app” category that will appeal to all those young digital natives out there.

From company materials: Retailers and businesses interested in joining the affiliate program can sign up for free and can get in contact with the PDF Maps team at

The PDF Maps app is available now on the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store free of charge for personal recreational use. A Windows version is currently in public beta release. Commercial, government and academic use licensing is available for a nominal annual fee. For more information about PDF Maps, visit or visit Avenza Systems at Pricing of each map is set by the publisher and free maps remain free to users through the PDF Maps in-app store. Commercial use licensing starts at US$49 per year and drops on a per-device basis as deployment numbers increase.


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Categories: 3D PDF, airports, analytics, Apple, Big Data, citizen science, cloud, crowd source, data, developers, Esri, geospatial, GIS, Google, handhelds, historical topography maps, indoor location technology, integrated GIS solutions, iPhone, LBS, location based services, location intelligence, mobile, NASA, retail, smartphones, TomTom, USGS

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